Stony Brook, NY – You can forget the mantra that defense wins championships.
In Big South football, offense is king. Or, more appropriately, Stony Brook's offense is king.
In a championship showdown between the Big South's best offensive units - both ranked in the FCS top 10 for scoring offense - the Seawolves defeated Liberty, 41-31, Saturday to claim the first NCAA playoff berth in program history.
"It's awesome to bring a championship to Stony Brook. To outright win it, just solely win it ... I think is a statement for Stony Brook as an institution," running back Brock Jackolski said. "I think it is a statement for all of us to win the Big South like that."
If it hadn't been made already, Stony Brook (8-3) cemented that stance against Liberty, becoming the first team in Big South history to finish 6-0 in conference play and setting a new conference mark by scoring 40-plus points in seven straight contests.
The question for Stony Brook now becomes, "Will the 40-plus scoring streak continue, and who will it come against?"
The second question will be answered Sunday morning when the 20-team FCS playoff field is announced (10 a.m., ESPNU). Stony Brook has no official plans for a watch or viewing party, but individually many of the players and the fans who stormed the field after the victory plan to tune in.
Once the Seawolves' next opponent and location is determined - they're hoping for a home game - the next step will be to keep the well-oiled offensive machine running.
Stony Brook certainly has the offensive cogs in place, and once everything is put into motion it can be very scary for opposing defenses.
"The main thing about our offense is we believe in each other, and when we play together I think we are better than any I-AA team out there," quarterback Kyle Essington said.
That's a bold statement by a quarterback who just took over the offense in Week 5, but one that is backed up by one of the best running back tandems in the country - Jackolski and Miguel Maysonet.
Against Liberty, the duo was once again explosive, rushing for a combined 279 yards (the fourth consecutive game both players topped the century mark) with three total touchdowns.
"They put a lot of pressure off of the passing game, to just put the ball in their hands and watch playmakers make big plays is a huge relief and an asset to our offense," Essington said.
With the pressure taken off his shoulders, Essington was very efficient in completing 14-of-20 pass attempts for 250 yards and three touchdowns, and, most importantly, no turnovers.
Even though it's a well-known fact that the Maysonet and Jackolski will get the ball often, Stony Brook's offense is more than capable of adjusting. It did so with great precision against Liberty.
"They had an extra week to prepare for us, so we flipped all our tendencies. Drew all our bootlegs to the field, moved the pocket to the field ... we are a big boundary run team and we flipped that, and saw our kids get out to some open space," head coach Chuck Priore said.
Not only did the Seawolves flip their tendencies, but they also added a new play to the offense, one that hadn't been run in two years and according to Priore picked up many of Stony Brook's 537 offensive yards.
Racking up yards, and, more importantly, winning, was even more significant for Stony Brook after it had the same opportunity last season - to win the conference outright and go to the playoffs - but was stifled by Liberty and struggled in a 54-28 loss.
However, that all changed this year and Liberty missed out on claiming at least a share of its fifth straight Big South championship. The Flames (7-4) are still searching for that elusive playoff berth.
"I think there was an expectation by Liberty that they deserved to go," Priore said. "Because, they feel like over the past couple years that they didn't get the bid when they had the record and deserved to. I think we worked to go and that was the difference."
And thanks to the 41-31 victory, Stony Brook now has a Big South championship to prove that the hard work paid off.