Liberty to battle Stony Brook in season finale

Who: The Liberty Flames (7-3, 5-0) vs the Stony Brook Seawolves (6-3, 4-0)

What: Perennial Big South football powerhouses Liberty and Stony Brook battle for sole ownership of the Big South title and an automatic berth in the FCS playoffs.

Quick Info

When: Saturday, Nov. 19. Kickoff at 1 p.m.

Where: LaValle Stadium, Stony Brook, NY

If Liberty win — The Flames would capture their fifth-straight conference title. Also with the win, the Flames receive an automatic bid into the 20-team FCS playoffs.

If Liberty loses — The Flames would not be conference champions for the first time in five years. To make the FCS playoffs, Liberty would have to receive an at-large bid, which will be announced on Nov. 20.

3 Keys to Victory

1. Establish a solid running game. Stony Brook is allowing opponents under 80 rushing yards a game, by far the stingiest in the Big South. Running back Aldreakis Allen will need to start off quicker than he did against VMI.

2. Defensive linemen Asa Chapman and Cory Freeman must dominate the trenches. Stony Brook running backs Miguel Maysonet and Brock Jackolski are one and two respectively in rushing yards in the conference. Liberty may not be able to stifle them completely, but they must slow them down.

3. Finishing drives once they reach the red-zone. Against Presbyterian, Liberty had over 400 yards of offense, but struggled to put points on the board. One problem was that of the five times they reached the red zone, the Flames only came away with two touchdowns, settling for two field goals and failing to score on the other three appearances. Against VMI, the Flames finished with touchdowns on three of their four red zone appearances. Liberty’s success will hinge on their efficiency in the red-zone.

On Target

As you walk down the corridors at William Stadium’s Football Operations Center, one phrase is constant. It appears at every corner, every hallway, every whiteboard.

“The Quest Continues.”

It’s been the team’s motto all year, and its connotation will never ring true as loud as it will Saturday when the Flames heads to New York to face Stony Brook for all the marbles. For Liberty, it’s a win-and-your-in scenario for the FCS playoffs. No tricks, no gimmicks, no massive point differential needed. It’s the type of situation they haven’t been in in a while, and frankly, they enjoy the challenge.

“This year, we truly control our destiny. Whereas in three of the last four years going into the last game thinking if we win we would be in, this is really the first year where we know if we win, we know it is an outright bid,” Coach Danny Rocco said.

But a win will almost assuredly not come easy. This is the third straight year Liberty has ended the season with a pivotal matchup against Stony Brook. The Flames will have their hands full with a team that leads the conference in total offense and defense. Stony Brook’s backfield features backs Miguel Maysonet and Brock Jackolski, who are the Big South’s two leading rushers. On the opposite end of the ball, Stony Brook’s run defense in among the leagues best.

“They have a real physical defense, their backs come up and play the run well. They have a good defense all the way round,” Liberty quarterback Mike Brown said.

For Rocco, the key to Liberty’s success in the upcoming weeks will rely on a mixture of a balanced attack of physicality and speed, pointing out that while teams from every level of football usually have one or the other, Rocco believes the Flames have a little of both.

“We have both elements in our camp here. Week in and week out, we’d have an opportunity to match up against opponents you don’t see during the season, and what that gives you is balance.”

Rocco also believes the playoff snubs of past years will offer quite the incentive as well.

“It’s really hard being left out when you know your body of work, your resume, was deserving. That’s difficult,” Rocco said. “This team has a history of being denied, and that is a motivational element that few people can relate to. That could be a real positive psychological advantage for us if we can win and get in.”

If Liberty were to come away with a win on Saturday, they would also have a chance at hosting a playoff game. Teams in the FCS are allowed to place bids to host games, which Liberty is expected to do.

But for now, the focus for the Flames is on the short-term. Practice routines will remain the same, expectations are the same as they have been all year. For the team, it’s about getting a win Saturday and nothing more.

“It’s just another game in our quest, and it’s something we need to take care of,” said Brown of the matchup.

“Like I told our team yesterday, the only thing we can focus on and control is our preparation and our performance in an effort to beat Stony Brook. Any discussions about playoff in my opinion are taboo. Any discussion about winning a fifth straight conference championship is taboo,” Rocco said.

It’s time for the next chapter. The quest continues.

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