Automatic playoff bid at stake for Stony Brook
LYNCHBURG, Va. -- Two seasons ago, Liberty's Williams Stadium was Waterloo for Stony Brook, the site of an epic 54-28 loss that prevented the Seawolves from making the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the first time.
Now SBU coach Chuck Priore is back with a 9-1 team that must win to clinch the outright Big South title and its second straight automatic FCS playoff bid.
The Flames (4-5, 3-1) own a 17-game home winning streak in conference games and expect a capacity crowd of 19,200. This is the final Big South game ever for the Seawolves, who are 5-0 in conference play and ranked No. 6 in the Sports Network poll and No. 8 in the FCS Coaches poll.
A loss would leave SBU tied for the title, but it would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker with Liberty or a three-way tiebreaker to Coastal Carolina in what traditionally has been a one-bid conference. The Seawolves are moving to the Colonial Athletic Association, which generally gets multiple FCS bids.
"Two years ago, it was foreign soil for us," Priore said, meaning his team never had made the playoffs. "We were playing for the championship to go to the NCAAs. It was about making the playoffs, not about winning that football game, unfortunately. This year, it will be about winning the football game."
Stony Brook qualified for the playoffs for the first time last season with a home win over Liberty, but the Seawolves have larger designs this year on a run at the national title. To get there, they have to break through at Williams Stadium, where they are 0-2.
Recalling the loss two years ago, Stony Brook safety Cedrick Moore said, "I never wanted to have that feeling again. It was really tough . . . It's a great stadium to play at and the scenery is really nice. But I don't feel it's a hard place to play at."
If anyone can make it hard on the Seawolves, it's Liberty running back Aldreakis Allen, who trails only SBU's Miguel Maysonet (165.1 yards per game) in Big South rushing with an average of 110.5 yards. Strong safety Moore, whom Priore describes as "our toughest player," will have a lot to say about stopping Allen.
"He's a really good player, and he runs hard," Moore said of Allen. "But I feel that we're a great run-stop defense."
Liberty has the Big South's best run defense, but it also must stop the passing of Kyle Essington to Kevin Norrell, just as Stony Brook's defense can't overlook the Flames' Josh Woodrum-to-Pat Kelly combination.
"We're very confident," Moore said. "I feel like winning just becomes a habit. We take every game like a playoff game, but it's no pressure because we've game-planned very well."