Albany senior kicker Ethan Stark’s 48-yard field goal attempt dinged the crossbar as time expired, barely bouncing in to give last-place Albany the shocking 25-23 upset victory over a top 10 Stony Brook team that was not expected to lose a two-win in-state rival. Less than 24 hours later, none of that mattered – Stony Brook Football was headed back to the NCAA Division I Football Championship, the last team revealed on ESPNU’s Selection Sunday broadcast.
The athletes, huddled in the Goldstein Academic Center, erupted upon seeing Stony Brook’s name pop up in the final spot. While the devastating defeat still stung, it didn’t matter now that the Seawolves had their eyes set on a national championship in Frisco, Texas.
“When our name came up on the playoff board, I think that [Albany] game was put to rest,” head coach Chuck Priore said. “It was tossed in the garbage.”
Stony Brook received an at-large bid from the FCS Playoffs selection committee after ending the regular season 7-4 overall and 5-3 in Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) play, tied for third in the conference. Going into the final week, Stony Brook had a chance to win the CAA and earn the automatic bid if all the stars aligned properly, but Maine squeezed out a one-point victory in the early 12 p.m. game, granting the conference title and automatic bid to the Black Bears.
A win up at Albany would have confidently secured an at-large playoff spot for the Seawolves, but the loss added to the chaos as it became even harder for the selection committee to separate the CAA teams from one another. When the dust settled, Stony Brook was one of six CAA teams to reach the playoffs, joining Maine, James Madison, Delaware, Towson and Elon. It is a new record for most teams selected from one conference.
Stony Brook has now made the FCS playoffs two seasons consecutively. Last year’s 10-3 team routed Lehigh at home to a score of 59-29 before losing in the second round at James Madison, 26-7. The Seawolves had previously made the playoffs in 2011 and 2012 as a member of the Big South Conference.
Stony Brook’s offense revolves around the “ground-and-pound” nature of the Long Island Express duo, with senior running backs Donald Liotine and Jordan Gowins ranking first and second in rushing yards in the CAA. Liotine amassed 1,099 yards, averaging 99.9 per game, while Gowins gained 922 yards (missing one game with an injury) and 92.2 per game. Both backs have impressed with nearly six yards per carry.
Senior quarterback Joe Carbone, who has led the Seawolves for the last three seasons, hopes to end his career with a national title. With 5,777 career passing yards, Carbone is third on the all-time Stony Brook leaderboard. His favorite target has been redshirt-senior wide receiver Julius Wingate, who leads all Seawolves with 32 receptions, 413 yards and five touchdowns.
The Seawolves boast one of the toughest defenses in the FCS. Holding opponents to an average of 19.6 points per game (10th best nationally), 322.2 yards per game (21st), 198.5 passing yards per game (33rd), 123.7 rushing yards per game (21st) and 3.18 yards per punt return (8th), Stony Brook has also performed well in key situations, allowing only a 29.7 percent third-down conversion percentage (10th) and a 60 percent red zone scoring percentage (fourth). The Seawolves have also returned six turnovers for touchdowns, the most in the FCS.
Senior linebackers Shayne Lawless and Noah McGinty have been key players in shutting down opposing offenses. Lawless and McGinty are currently tied for fifth-most career tackles in Stony Brook history, and Lawless owns the fourth-highest career tackles for loss and 10th-highest sack total.
Ten Stony Brook players were named All-Conference by the CAA, and senior offensive lineman Chris Infantino earned the Chuck Boone Leadership and Excellence Award for his role in creating running room on the field and his endeavors in earning a master of science degree in neuroscience off it. Named to the first team were Liotine, senior tight end/fullback Cal Daniels and Lawless. Gowins, junior cornerbacks Gavin Heslop and defensive lineman Sam Kamara and freshman offensive lineman Kyle Nunez were named to the second team, while McGinty joined sophomore cornerback TJ Morrison on the third team.
The road to a championship begins in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where the No. 15 Stony Brook Seawolves will take on the No. 20 Southeast Missouri State Redhawks in a first-round road battle on Saturday, Nov. 24. The Redhawks finished 8-3, second place in a light Ohio Valley Conference, and rank first in the FCS with a +23 turnover margin. However, they’ve allowed 492.1 yards per game (118th of 124 FCS teams), including 303.6 passing yards per game (122nd) and 188.5 rushing yards per game (79th).
Expect the Long Island Express to run free on Saturday, opening up opportunities for Carbone to air it out and take advantage of a porous Southeast Missouri secondary. The Seawolves’ stout defense will be put to the test against a Redhawks offense that averaged 39.2 points per game (ninth), albeit one that has yet to play a top-20 defense.
With the challenge looming, the players are prepared. “I think you really have to be locked in and focused,” Carbone said. “You have to just do your job as best you can because they do create havoc on defense. It’s really important to control the ball, control the clock, and just try and run the ball and hit big plays.”
The postseason battle at Houck Stadium will begin at 2 p.m. on Saturday.