By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
STONY BROOK, N.Y. — After a loss to Liberty in its final regular-season game cost Stony Brook the Big South Conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Football Championships, the Seawolves were just glad to see their name in the 20-team playoff bracket.
It didn't matter to the No. 10-ranked team that it didn't receive a first-round bye, that it was matched up against Colonial Athletic Association automatic bid recipient Villanova, or that NCAA Division I Football Committee chairman Charlie Cobb said that Stony Brook was one of the last two at-large teams selected for the tournament.
"We were just glad to be able to keep on playing," said Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore. "This team had a long two weeks. We handled it right from the shoulders up."
And keep playing, the Seawolves did, scoring a startling 20-10 victory on Saturday at LaValle Stadium to advance to the second round next Saturday at No. 3 seed Montana State.
Miguel Maysonet and Marcus Coker provided a one-two punch for the Stony Brook rushing attack, combining for 267 yards to help the Seawolves (10-2) control the ball and limit the impact of quarterback Kyle Essington's absence with a deep thigh bruise.
Essington, the NCAA passing efficiency leader, was replaced by JC transfer Lyle Negron, who threw just six passes, completing three of them for 37 yards. But Negron managed the game and didn't commit any turnovers against the normally opportunistic Villanova defense.
Negron survived a fumbled exchange on Stony Brook's initial drive as the Seawolves constructed a remarkable 21-play, 98-yard possession that burned nearly 13 minutes off of the clock.
"That's the team we are, we like to possess the football," said Maysonet. "We scored at the end of it. That what we like to do,"
No. 12 Villanova (8-4) took advantage of the opening kickoff to move the ball to its own 47. But on a second and four play, running back Kevin Monangai (nine carries, 20 yards) was thrown for a three-yard loss and wide receiver Joe Price dropped a third-down pass that would have given the Wildcats a first down near the SBU 40.
"I don't think we put enough stress on them at any time in the game to give them any concern," Villanova coach Andy Talley said. "You've got to stress them and make them come from behind. We didn't bring a lot of offense today."
Forced to punt, Villanova's Mark Hamilton pinned the Seawolves back at the two, but couldn't forced a stop on the key drive of the game.
Stony Brook converted four third downs and one fourth down and eventually scored on Maysonet's one-yard plunge with 14:17 left in the second quarter.
"To win the game we knew we needed to keep the ball away from them," said Priore, who watched his team run up an almost 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession. "I've never been involved in a 21-play drive for 98 yards."
A fake punt on a direct snap to fullback Gary Underwood came up two yards short of a first down at the Stony Brook 42 on Villanova's second possession and the Wildcats went three out the next time they received the ball.
Stony Brook dodged another bullet when a bad handoff between Negron and Coker (29 carries, 107 yards) left a bouncing ball on the turf on a third and one from the VU 40, but when cornerback Eric Loper tried to scoop the ball up and run for a TD, he failed to recover and the Seawolves got the ball back and were able to punt it away.
After a Villanova three and out, Maysonet (25 carries, 160 yards) took control of the game with a 47-yard scamper that ended with a 15-yard face mask penalty that set up Stony Brook's second score.
Three plays later, Maysonet's burst to the outside for 14 yards and a TD to push the lead to 14-0 with just over three minutes left in the half.
A pair of holding penalties and a John Robertson interception that was grabbed by Davonte Anderson subverted Villanova's final drive of the half and concluded a mistake-plagued 30 minutes for the Wildcats.
The defense held Villanova in the game in the second half, but it took far too long for the Wildcats to get their offense untracked.
After a Craig James strip caused a Coker fumble that was recovered by safety Ronnie Akins to end Stony Brook's first drive of the third period at the VU 39, the Wildcats quickly moved into scoring position, but had to settle for a 41-yard Hamilton field goal to get on the board at 14-3.
James led the Wildcat defense with 13 tackles.
Stony Brook answered with a 37-yard Wesley Skiffington field goal with 2:23 remaining on the third-quarter clock to make it 17-3.
Anderson came up with his second interception off Robertson a short time later and another Skiffington field goal pushed the lead to 20-3 with 13:33 left and left Villanova clinging to life.
Villanova finally responded with its best drive, going 10 plays for 72 yards and scored on a 21-yard blast up the middle from Robertson (15-of-31, 135 yards passing, 15 carries, 85 yards rushing) for the touchdown with just under seven minutes to play, but the Wildcats still trailed by 10 points and couldn't get any closer.
"I would have hoped we brought our A game today, they had a lot to do with us not bringing our A game today" said Talley. "We needed it. I think (Stony Brook is) going to give some teams some scares in the national championship tournament."
The loss ended the biggest turnaround in the Football Championship Subdivision this fall, as Villanova improved by six wins in 2012 after last year's 2-9 campaign.
"It was an amazing thing to be a part of that," said Akins, a senior who had 12 tackles and one tackle for loss to go with his fumble recovery.
Talley was also impressed with the change.
"This team has overachieved," Talley said. "To get to the second round would have been a real accomplishment."
But his club is poised for bigger things with much of its young talent returning next year.
"We've been where the air is pretty rare," said Talley. "We think we're going to be a real factor nationally next season."
For Stony Brook, a team that was ousted by a touchdown to national-runner-up Sam Houston State in the second round last season, the expectations are high as its playoff run continues.
"When they got their opportunity, you could see the enthusiasm," said Priore. "Our plans are to finish what we do and bring something home."