By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
(Photo Credit: Albany’s Brian Parker (49) tries to tackle Stony Brook’s Dominick Reyes (24) after he makes the interception off a tipped pass for the win. (Nov. 26, 2011) Joseph D. Sullivan.)
Full Newsday photo album here.
STONY BROOK, N.Y. — When you know a coach as well as Stony Brook’s Chuck Priore knows his personal mentor, Albany’s Bob Ford, it’s like finishing sentences for your wife.
So when Albany faced a second and goal from the three with 54 seconds left and an NCAA Division I Football first-round playoff game hanging in the balance, the Stony Brook coach knew what to expect.
Priore also could count on two of his defenders, cornerback Donald Porter and free safety Dominick Reyes to do their jobs, with Porter tipping a pass intended for tight end Paul Booker and Reyes catching the ball and staying in-bounds on the end line to preserve a 31-28 victory for the Seawolves before a record football crowd of 8,286 at LaValle Stadium.
The victory vaults 9-3 Stony Brook, the champion of the Big South Conference, into a second-round game next Saturday at top-seeded and 11-0 Sam Houston State in Huntsville, TX.
It was also the first-ever victory for the Big South Conference in postseason play.
“I thought he would do exactly what he did,” said Priore, who played fullback at Albany under Ford from 1979-82 and was Ford’s team captain as a senior and three-year starter. “We called the perfect defense for that, but it easily could have gone the other way.”
Albany quarterback Dan Di Lella (24-of-43, 223 yards, one TD and two interceptions) fake a handoff, reversed field to his right and fired a pass high to the back of the end zone, targeting his tight end for the first time all day.
But the 6-foot-4 Booker was double covered and 5-8 Porter — who already had one interception, one pick that was ruled incomplete and another dropped — leaped high in the air to deflect the pass to Reyes.
“I couldn’t dream that up,” said Reyes, a junior. “That was simply amazing.”
With a full compliment of 63 scholarships, Stony Brook was favored against 40-scholarship Albany in a game featuring two playoff newcomers.
But with Albany cruising with a 28-10 lead late in the third quarter, it seemed like the teacher, Ford, might beat his pupil, Priore.
The Great Danes (8-4 and champions of the Northeast Conference) pulled out all the stops to build their 18-point lead. and held the nation’s top-scoring and third-leading rushing team to a season-low 164 yards on the ground.
After stopping a fourth and inches at its own six on SBU’s opening drive and watching the Seawolves fail on a 48-yard field goal when Wesley Skiffington’s kick plunked off the left upright, Albany took control late in the first period.
Drew Smith (17 carries, 40 yards, one TD rushing) crashed over from the one to give the Danes a 7-0 lead almost 12 minutes into the contest and Dean Martin blocked a punt, with Brian Parker returning it 21 yards for another score to make it 14-0 on the second play of the second period.
Stony Brook looked to have found its equilibrium midway through the second quarter as Skiffington hit from 39 yards and Kyle Essington ((12-of-24, 258 yards, two TDs, one interception passing) found Matt Brevi for an 11-yard scoring play.
But Albany stunned Stony Brook with a 44-yard scoring strike from Di Lella to Cole King down the middle of the field to push the lead back to 21-10 at the half.
“At halftime, we said not to wait for a play to happen, but to make a play,” said SBU running back Brock Jackolski, the Hofstra transfer who was playing probably his final game on a field where he earned accolades as a prep star.
Jackolski (232 all-purpose yards and the final three touchdowns) needed a little more time to put those motivational words into practice, however, when Albany struck again, less than two minutes into the third period.
An option pass from Smith to Ryan Kirchner (12 catches, 143 yards) burned the Seawolves for 43 yards and a touchdown to build the lead to 28-10. It was the fourth completion and fourth touchdown pass of the year for Smith — a high school quarterback — in four attempts.
But then Jackolski took over. Not only did he work his magic on offense, but the senior also helped Stony Brook on special teams — as always — and defense for the second week in a row. He played in nickel packages throughout the game.
Jackolski (22 carries, 103 yards and two TDs rushing) capped an 11-play, 80-yard drive with a six-yard sprint to the corner of the end zone to make it 28-17 and the momentum started turning further Stony Brook’s way when Porter picked off a Di Lella pass six players later.
“The crowd started roaring,” said Porter, “and you could feel it in my teammates that something special was about to happen.”
Two plays later, the Seawolves called for a play that Priore had diagramed on a towel on Thursday evening.
“I just doodled it up,” said Priore. “I saw something on Thursday morning on film and I worked it up. I thought it would work. It was a play we have run before, but it wasn’t in the game plan.”
Jackolski ran to the wing, faked like he was going to block to draw the safety in for a potential run and then dashed behind the secondary on the home sideline.
Essington’s pass caught Jackolski in stride for a 55-yard scoring play to pull Stony Brook within 28-24 with 1:16 remaining in the third period.
It now seemed like Albany couldn’t even manage a first down and a 38-yard connection from Essington to Kevin Norrell to the UA 42 on the final play of the third quarter served as a prelude to what the Seawolves had in store.
Taking advantage of a tiring Dane defense, SBU pounded the ball further up the field until Jordan Gush hauled in an Essington pass for 17 yards to the UA 11.
On the next play, Jackolski sliced off-tackle with some fine blocking in front of him and didn’t stop until he reached the end zone.
With 12:40 remaining, Stony Brook had not only erased that Albany lead, it led by three points, 31-28.
The Danes managed just one first down on its next two possessions, but took advantage of a shanked, 14-yard punt by Skiffington to start one final drive 55 yards away with 5:45 remaining.
Di Lella converted three third downs and one fourth down to keep the march alive and a pass to Smith gave the Danes a second down at the three with 54 seconds left.
“When Ryan McCarthy, our offensive coordinator, made the call, there was an element that said catch them with a play-action fake,” said Ford. “The Stony Brook kids made a good play on the ball.”
A field goal would have sent the game to overtime, but Ford played for the win.
“I think, if you are on the road, it changes a bit (playing for overtime),” Priore said. “I think you go for the win. I would have gone for the win.”
Di Lello took full responsibility for the turnover afterwards.
“I figured I’d try to throw it up high,” said Di Lello, who came into the game ranked 12th nationally in passing efficiency, with only eight interceptions this season. “It was a stupid decision, I should have thrown it off the scoreboard.”
Instead of pulling out a victory, the Great Danes will be watching at home when Stony Brook moves on to face Sam Houston State next weekend.
“I told Chuck, I don’t know if he won, or I won, since he has to go down and play Sam Houston,” said Ford, who coached with a torn MCL and torn meniscus after one of his players collided with him on the sidelines in the second period. “I ripped a meniscus and I told the team I did it for motivational purposes, but it didn’t work.”
Priore had trouble putting the win into words after the game.
“Is wow good enough,” Priore asked? “Sometimes, you don’t play your best and you have to win as a team. That is what happened today, it took every tick to win it.”