The battle of St. Anselm will be little noted and won't be long remembered in the annals of Stony Brook football. The Seawolves' 55-6 victory over the winless Division II school from New Hampshire and the gaudy 679 yards of total offense they ran up Saturday night at LaValle Stadium were expected.
But while it might have been little more than a glorified scrimmage, the rapid development of Stony Brook's passing game since Kyle Essington ascended to the starting quarterback role after Michael Coulter's season-ending knee injury is a sign the Seawolves (3-3, 1-0 Big South) are primed for a run at the Big South title and their first FCS playoff berth. The victory was their third in a row and provides momentum heading to the first of five straight conference games Saturday at VMI.
"We feel like we're on a big roll, and we're going to keep accelerating,'' said wide receiver Jordan Gush, who caught three passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns. "VMI is going to be a bigger challenge.''
Any Big South opponent would be a bigger challenge than the Hawks (0-6), who played gamely but were in over their heads. They rank 149th in rushing defense out of 152 Division II schools, and it showed big-time.
The Seawolves rolled up 404 yards rushing while rotating four tailbacks, including regulars Brock Jackolski (99 yards on 10 carries, two rushing touchdowns and a 90-yard kickoff return for a TD) and Miguel Maysonet (84 yards on 15 carries) and redshirt freshmen JeVahn Cruz (169 yards on 10 carries, two rushing TDs) and Davon Lawrence (62 yards on 10 carries). They might have hit the 500-yard rushing mark if not for 10 penalties totaling 123 yards.
But the most important numbers belonged to Essington, who completed 16 of 20 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns. That remarkable performance came on the heels of his four-TD passing game the previous week in his debut start against Presbyterian. If Essington continues to pressure defenses with his rollouts and the threat of his running ability, it will pose nightmarish problems for the Seawolves' Big South opponents.
It's a credit to Essington and the way coach Chuck Priore worked him into the mix while Coulter was struggling with his injury that the backup was fully prepared and able to elevate his game when his time arrived. "I have a lot of respect for Mike,'' Essington said. "It was so courageous of him to play with an injured knee. I stayed mentally ready. It's definitely been a great experience, especially in a non-conference game. It's been a nice transition, and everybody has been supportive.''
Essington did most of his damage in the first half, hitting 12 of 15 passes for 239 yards and second-quarter touchdowns of 25 and 29 yards to Gush and 16 yards to Matt Brevi. When Stony Brook was backed up at its 2-yard line in the first quarter, Essington threw a 40-yard pass to David Norrell to start a 98-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard run by Jackolski.
Explaining the effect that Essington's ability in the moving pocket has on the rest of the offense, Jackolski said, "Kyle is an awesome athlete with his running and passing. It's so hard for a defense to cover everything. It opens up the running game, and Miguel and I set up the passing game.''
Special teams also played a role in the rout. After St. Anselm scored its only touchdown on a 22-yard pass from Mike Pierce to Eric Feehan to open the third quarter, Jackolski responded with a 90-yard kickoff return in which he eluded the grasp of three different Hawks who got a hand on him.
It seems that not only Jackolski but all the Seawolves are hitting their stride at the right time.