At long last, it’s all set.
Finally, the Bearkats know who they’ll be playing in next weekend’s FCS playoff game.
While Stony Brook and Albany duked it out in a fight to the finish on Saturday afternoon, Sam Houston’s players and coaches sat at home eagerly studying the game online knowing that they would face the winner next weekend at Bowers Stadium.
Stony Brook, which is ranked 22nd, trailed 28-10 with just minutes to go in the third quarter before rallying with 21 unanswered points to take the lead early in the fourth. The Seawolves then held off a feisty Albany team in the final minutes for a 31-28 victory to advance to the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Now the matchup for this Saturday is all squared away. Top-ranked and No. 1 overall seed Sam Houston State will host Stony Brook with a trip to the national quarterfinals on the line.
“We actually got to watch them last week against Liberty (in a winner-take-all regular-season finale for the Big South title). There’s a lot of similarities between us,” Sam Houston head coach Willie Fritz said about the Seawolves.
“They’re a running team like us, but they do it in a more conventional way where we use a lot of option. They use a lot of play-action and bootleg (passes). They’re a physical defense and have a big offensive line.
“They’re a heck of a team.”
Stony Brook, the No. 1 scoring offense in the FCS, is led by its running back tandem of Miguel Maysonet and Brock Jackolski. Through 12 games, including Saturday’s playoff victory, Maysonet has rushed for 1,560 yards, while Jackolski has accumulated 1,332 yards on the ground. Both have scored 15 rushing touchdowns apiece.
In Saturday’s come-from-behind victory, both tailbacks had 22 carries apiece with Jackolski leading the way with 103 yards, while Maysonet had 75.
“They like to use the stretch play with both of those guys, but they also run between the tackles,” Fritz said. “Their two running backs complement each other. They run inside and outside.
“Jackolski is a strong runner, but he can also catch the ball. You definitely can’t arm-tackle him.”
After a defensive struggle through much of the first half, the Great Danes grabbed plenty of momentum just before halftime. Leading 14-10 with less than a minute to go before the break, Albany quarterback Dan Di Lella hit wide receiver Cole King for a 44-yard touchdown pass, giving the Danes a 21-10 advantage through two quarters.
Then in the third quarter, Albany took just four plays to find end zone again, this time on a 43-yard strike from wide receiver to Ryan Kirchner.
Jumping ahead 28-10, the Danes were in control with 13:19 to go in the third. But with plenty of time left, the Seawolves came charging back.
Following a 6-yard touchdown run by Jackolski, Stony Brook, which was tied for fourth in the FCS in turnover margin coming into Saturday’s game, took over near midfield thanks to an interception by Donald Porter.
Two plays later, Jackolski found the end zone again on a wheel route and hauled in a 55-yard catch-and-run pass for a score.
Just like that, Stony Brook was within four at 28-24.
Albany could not manage a first down on its next possession and the Seawolves took the lead for good as Jackolski scored from 11 yards out.
The game didn’t end without a little bit of drama, though. Needing a field goal to tie the game at 31, the Danes were within range of a game-winning touchdown.
But on second-and-goal from the 3, Di Lella was picked off by junior defensive back Dominick Reyes in the back of the end zone with 47 seconds left to seal the game.
“They didn’t panic. They did a great job,” Fritz said. “They did a good job of handling the pressure.”
Stony Brook was able to come back and moved the ball because of the effectiveness of the play-action pass.
The Seawolves, who run the ball 70 percent of the time, got the Danes’ defense to bite on play-action and found wide-open receivers downfield.
“They continued to run the ball well, which opened things up downfield,” Fritz said. “They get you up there to pack the box and they’ll get you on the play-action.”
Now knowing that they’ll face a strong Stony Brook squad, the Bearkats will quickly get back to work this week to begin preparations for their playoff game on Saturday.
“We’ll meet back up and have a short practice Sunday,” Fritz said. “We’ll be doing a lot of things to try and get our tempo back up. We haven’t had three days off since we started camp.
“We’ll be introducing the game plan for Stony Brook on Monday and we’ll be back to our normal routine Tuesday through Friday.”