By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
STONY BROOK, N.Y. — One thing is certain when two playoff newcomers, Albany and Stony Brook, meet Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. at LaValle Stadium in the first round of the NCAA Division I Football Championships.
Either the Big South, or Northeast Conference will earn its first playoff victory.
Playing in the postseason for just the second time after the playoff field expanded to 20 teams and the two conferences received new automatic bids, the Big South and the NEC find themselves matched up in an intriguing showdown.
This will be the first playoff experience at the Football Championship Subdivision level for both Albany and Stony Brook, with the winner moving on to play top-seeded and undefeated Sam Houston State next week in the second round.
It is also game that matches the veteran of FCS coaching, 75-year-old Bob Ford in his 34th year as the Great Danes coach, and one of the many members of his coaching tree, sixth-year Stony Brook coach and Albany alumnus Chuck Priore.
One of the true gentlemen of college football, Ford is known for his organization and fundamental approach to the job, skills that Priore has learned and taken on to Stony Brook.
Priore played fullback in the wingbone offense Ford ran at that time and still puts a priority on the running game.
The similarities of these two 8-3 teams don’t stop there.
Both squads started their seasons slowly, but came on after the first month to follow remarkably similar routes to the playoffs.
Stony Brook showed its promise in week one, dominating play for most of the game and forcing four turnovers on the road against UTEP to take a 24-10 lead late in the third period.
UTEP made a run at the Seawolves the rest of the way, tying the game at 24 in the fourth quarter and won the game 31-24 in overtime.
Instead of an FBS win to start the season, Stony Brook soon found itself at 0-3 after a 35-7 loss to former I-AA program Buffalo and a heartbreaking 21-20 defeat at home against Brown.
Leading 17-7 midway through the third period, the Seawolves watched the Bears come back to take the lead with just over three minutes left and the Brown defense made the comeback hold up.
But with their backs against the wall, the Seawolves turned things around behind a dynamic running attack to win eight consecutive games.
Playing a winner-take-all contest with Liberty at home last Saturday for the Big South auto bid and the league championship, Stony Brook went back to basics with the score tied at 31 in the fourth quarter and learned how to close out a win with the final 10 points of a 41-31 victory.
Miguel Maysonet capped off a drive with a one-yard run with 9:39 to play on a day when he rushed 25 times for 158 yards. Wesley Skiffington’s 18-yard field goal with less than five minutes to play clinched it.
But the one-two punch of Maysonet and Brock Jackolski has keyed the Seawolves attack all season and made up for inconsistency at quarterback from Kyle Essington, who replaced the injured Michael Coulter.
Maysonet ranks second nationally in rushing with 1,485 yards and 16 total TDs, while Jackolski is 16th in rushing with 1,229 yards and 16 total touchdowns to tie Maysonet for 10th in the NCAA and ranks third in all-purpose running and kickoff returns.
Stony Brook ranks third in the country in rushing (287 yards), 99th in passing (162 yards), sixth in total offense (449 yards) and first in scoring (39.6).
Stony Brook survived a 361-yard performance by Liberty’s All-American quarterback Mike Brown and a 10-reception, 240-yard game from wide receiver Chris Summers, but pass defense (ranked 102th nationally, 239 yards per game) hasn’t been the Seawolves calling card.
But SBU has been one the top units in run defense (ranked ninth, 95 yards) and is 30th in scoring and total defense (21.91 points per game, 334 yards).
Defensive end Junior Solice is the only player on that side of the ball to be listed in any NCAA rankings. He is 91st in tackles for loss with 1.06 per game.
Albany also faced adversity early. The Great Danes lost 37-34 in overtime at home to Colgate in the opening week of the season and followed that up with a 31-15 defeat at home against playoff-bound Maine.
From there, however, Albany won six games in a row and eight of their next nine.
A 38-10 victory at home over Duquesne in the middle of the season vaulted Albany into first place in the NEC, but a 31-17 road loss to Bryant backed the Great Danes into a corner.
But with Duquesne in line for the auto bid if Albany lost in the final two weeks of the regular season, the Great Danes took care of business with a 41-24 victory at Monmouth and a 31-21 home win against Sacred Heart.
The Great Danes are more balanced on offense, ranking 27th in rushing (191 yards), 39th in passing (231 yards), 21st in total offense (421 yards) and 16th in scoring (34.2).
Quarterback Dan Di Lella is 12th in passing efficiency and 31st in total offense (238 yards per game) and Andrew Smith is 32nd in rushing (1,052 yards) and has 10 total touchdowns. Smith has also been used to toss three touchdown passes.
Albany has been a middle-of-the-pack team defensively, ranking 60th in rushing (151 yards), 37th in passing (196 yards), 43rd in total defense (347 yards) and 35th in scoring (22.4 points).
One strength of the Great Danes is its punting, with Paul Layton. Layton is averaging 43 yards per punt, good for sixth best in the country, and is third in net punting (38.8).
The key to the game will be Albany’s ability to slow down the Stony Brook rushing attack.
Ford and Priore are 1-1 in previous meetings against each other, making this an even more intriguing matchup.