FCS Playoffs 1st Round: Lehigh at #9 Stony Brook

Lehigh (5-6) at #9 Stony Brook (9-2) – Nov. 25th 2 PM LaValle Stadium Stony Brook, NY

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For only the second time ever, Lehigh (Patriot League) and Stony Brook (CAA) will square off on the gridiron. The stakes this time around will be far higher on Saturday than they were on September 2, 2004 when these two schools met for the first time. That’s when a Top 25 Lehigh squad smothered the upstart Seawolves 25-2 in Bethlehem, PA. This time around the two meet in the 1st round of the FCS Playoffs with Stony Brook being the prohibitive favorite at home. The winner will get the opportunity to play defending national champion James Madison next Saturday in Harrisonburg, VA. Stony Brook did not face the Dukes in the regular season so they would love nothing more than to prove the best team in the CAA resides on Long Island.

In order for the Seawolves to advance they must stick to the formula that got them here. For most of the year Stony Brook has been efficient on offense and played sound, disciplined defense. Their offensive numbers (180 ypg passing/149 ypg rushing) certainly don’t jump off the page but they only tell part of the story. Coach Priore values the running game, timely passing and not beating yourself. The Seawolves have deployed a hard-nosed, physical brand of football (some might call boring) that has resulted in 3 FCS Playoff appearances under his watch.

Stony Brook has two very capable running backs in Stacy Bedell (694 yards 7 TDs) and Donald Liotine (561 yards 8 TDs). Bedell is nursing an injury heading into this week so there is some concern as to how effective he’ll be. If he is limited expect to see Jordan Gowins get significant playing time. Whoever lines up in the Seawolve’s backfield will find plenty of running room against Lehigh’s 116th ranked rush defense (232 ypg allowed). The Mountain Hawks will need their front 7 to play at a much higher level than they’ve shown so far this season. Stony Brook has a big offensive line (averages 6’4 312 lbs) that will lean on the Lehigh defense for 60 minutes. The Mountain Hawks will need big individual performances from DT Tyler Cavenas and LB Mark Walker.

Stony Brook quarterback Joe Carbone (181 ypg 20 TDs 3 INTs) is the perfect signal caller for Priore’s ball control offense. Carbone can make plays with his arm when he has to but his decision making and understanding of situational football is hit primary asset. His favorite target this year has been 1st Team CAA selection Ray Bolden (66 rec 780 yards 9 TDs). Bolden was banged up against Maine, and like Bedell, his status for Saturday’s game remains a bit cloudy. If he’s not 100% or can’t go all together that will be a significant blow. Lehigh’s pass defense has had its share of breakdowns but its play has been better than the stats suggest (232 ypg 84th in FCS). The inability to stop the run and the lack of a pass rush has often put the secondary in tough spots. As a result, opponents have hit on big plays from time to time. The Mountain Hawks possess a capable, experienced defensive backfield that should fair reasonably well against the Stony Brook passing attack.

The reason Lehigh feels like they can pull off the upset is their offense. There’s no question the Mountain Hawks are led by one of the most explosive “O’s” (36.5 ppg, 9th in FCS) in all of FCS. Quarterback Brad Mayes (323 ypg 28 TDs 12 INTs) can sling it as well as anyone in FCS if defenses don’t disrupt his rhythm. Mayes has two exceptional senior targets at wide receiver to work with in Troy Pelletier (95 rec 1,198 yards 9 TDs) and Gatlin Casey (49 rec 747 yards 11 TDs). Then there’s the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year Dom Bragalone (1,131 yards 18 TDs) at running back.

The Seawolve’s defense has been good all year (19.4 ppg allowed, 22nd in FCS) but they haven’t faced an offense this explosive since their season opener against FBS South Florida. The key will be trying to take away Bragalone and force Mayes to beat them through the air. NT Ousmane Camara and LB Shayne Lawless will need to bring their “A” game in order for Stony Brook to control the trenches against a veteran Lehigh O-Line. Stony Brook has the type of defense that is built to contain the Lehigh offense as long they avoid giving up the big plays. Lehigh has been prone to mistakes when they’ve been forced to grind out long drives or play from behind. The Mountain Hawks prefer to use tempo which puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses both mentally and physically.

The contrasting styles are what make this game so interesting. Stony Brook wants to insert their physical will, avoid mistakes and take advantage of their opponent’s hiccups in order to capture victory. Lehigh on the other hand needs a track meet to overcome their historically bad defense. The Mountain Hawks absolutely have the offense to make this a competitive game but their front 7 on defense is going to be their Achilles heel. As long as Stony Brook avoids costly turnovers and scores touchdowns instead of field goals they’ll get their shot at the defending national champions.

Prediction: Stony Brook 42 Lehigh 31

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