Story and photo courtesy of Towson Athletics
DURHAM, N.H. – Facing No. 7 New Hampshire (8-3, 6-2) at Cowell Stadium with the season on the line, the Towson University football team (7-4, 6-2) stunned the Colonial Athletic Association leaders with 640 yards of total offense as the Tigers earned a share of the CAA championship with an impressive 64-35 victory on Saturday afternoon.
The Tigers’ victory created the possibility of a five-way tie for the CAA championship. Richmond (8-3, 6-2) claimed a share of the CAA title with a 21-14 win over William and Mary. Villanova (8-3, 6-2) earned part of the title with a win at Delaware while James Madison and Old Dominion were playing to become part of the logjam.
The Tigers, who finished the regular season with four consecutive wins, also put themselves in a position to be selected for one of the 20 spots in the NCAA FCS playoffs. The NCAA FCS field will be announced on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
“This is the toughest team I’ve ever coached,” said Towson Coach Rob Ambrose, who coached the Tigers to the CAA title outright in 2011. “For the last four weeks, these guys have been playing with their backs to the wall. They were not going to be denied.”
With their season on the line, the Tigers outplayed the Wildcats in every phase of the game.
They scored on 10 of their 13 possessions in the win and they punted only once. The Tiger offense posted the fourth-highest total of offensive yards in school history with 640. Towson ran for 415 yards, the third-highest single game total in program history.
The Tigers also controlled the time of possession as they had the ball for 39:25 while UNH had 20:35 in time of possession. Towson ran 85 offensive plays while the Wildcats had 56 plays.
Sophomore Terrance West enjoyed his best rushing performance of the season. He had 19 carries for 236 yards and scored two touchdowns while senior Dominique Booker ran for 89 yards on 13 carries and also scored a pair of touchdowns.
Senior quarterback Grant Enders completed 20 of 28 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 39 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns. With 2:54 left in the game, Enders scored on a 19-yard run which enabled him to become the first quarterback in Towson history to rush for 1,000 career yards.
The Tigers, who have overcome all sorts of adversity this season, did so again on Saturday as they beat UNH despite the absence of senior All-American safety Jordan Dangerfield. Dangerfield was suspended for one game by CAA Commissioner Tom Yeager because of two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties against Rhode Island on Nov. 10.
As a tribute to the Tiger co-captain, Booker exchanged his own No. 15 and wore Dangerfield’s No. 20 in the win.
While the Tigers pulled away in the second half for the win, it was New Hampshire that scored first. On the first play from scrimmage, the Wildcats wasted no time grabbing a quick lead as sophomore quarterback Andy Vailas ran around the left end and scampered down the sideline for a 77-yard touchdown, giving UNH a 6-0 lead only 16 seconds into the game. UNH tried for a two-point conversion that failed, leaving the lead at 6-0.
The Tigers came right back on their first possession and marched 73 yards in 10 plays. A 34-yard pass from Enders to tight end Cory Kirby gave Towson a first down at the UNH 27. West scored the game-tying touchdown on a four-yard run before D.J. Soven’s conversion gave the Tigers a 7-6 lead with 8:36 left in the first quarter.
The Wildcats drove deep into Towson territory on their second possession but failed to convert on a fourth down play. Towson took over at its own 26-yard line. On the third play from scrimmage, West broke loose for 64 yards to the UNH one-yard line. On the next play, Booker scored from one yard out to give the Tigers a 14-6 advantage.
Once again, UNH responded as the Wildcats marched 68 yards in 10 plays. Vailas capped off the drive by scoring his second touchdown of the game on a nine-yard run. Then, he completed a two-point conversion pass to Joey Orlando to tie the game at 14-14 with 26 seconds left in the first quarter.
For the third straight possession, the Tigers marched deep into UNH territory. When the drive stalled, Soven gave the Tigers a 17-14 lead when he booted a 43-yard field goal.
Midway through the second quarter, the Tiger defense forced the first punt of the game and the Tigers took over at their own 19-yard line. Once again, the Tigers marched into UNH territory and faced a fourth-and-eight at the Wildcats’ 32-yard line. A 13-yard pass play to senior Erron Banks kept the drive going. On the next play, Enders lofted a 19-yard TD pass to Banks in the left corner of the end zone, capping off an 81-yard, 10-play drive.
Leading by 24-14, the Tigers got a huge break on the ensuing kickoff when Mac Sanders recovered a fumble by Chris Setian at the UNH 37-yard line. On the next play, Booker ran around right end for a touchdown to give Towson a 30-14 advantage. Soven missed the conversion to keep the lead at 30-14.
Once again, the Wildcats responded with a touchdown drive. UNH marched 75 yards on eight plays and cut its deficit to 30-22 with 3:52 left in the half. Vailas completed the drive by throwing an 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brian Ciccone. Then, he completed a two-point conversion pass to R.J. Harris, pulling UNH to within 30-22.
With time running out in the first half, the Tigers drove to the UNH 28-yard line where they had a fourth down. Soven came into the game to try a 44-yard field goal. However, it was blocked by Jared Smith. Steven Thames picked up the ball and raced 65 yards for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 30-28. Although the Wildcats failed to convert the two-point conversion, they went to halftime with a lot of momentum.
On the opening drive of the second half, the Tigers regained the momentum with an impressive 86-yard, nine-play drive. A 41-yard by West gave the Tigers a first down at the UNH 17-yard line. Four plays later, Enders threw a three-yard TD pass to fullback Emmanuel Holder, giving Towson a 37-28 advantage.
After New Hampshire’s Mike MacArthur missed a 40-yard field goal attempt, the Tigers upped their lead to 43-28 with a 77-yard, 11-play drive. Enders capped off the drive by scoring on an eight-yard run. However, Soven’s extra point attempt was blocked.
With 8:23 remaining in the game, West scored his second touchdown of the game and his 15th of the season on a five-yard run, putting the Tigers ahead, 50-28.
Just 15 seconds later, Vailas fumbled at the UNH 26-yard line. Linebacker Brian Boateng, a graduate student, recovered the fumble and raced 26 yards to the end zone for a touchdown, giving Towson a 57-28 lead.
After the Wildcats marched 56 yards for a touchdown to make it 57-35, Enders clinched the victory on his 19-yard run with 2:54 left in the game.
Freshman linebacker Bryton Barr led the Tigers with nine tackles. He also broke up a pass and had one tackle for lost yardage. Cornerback Tye Smith added seven tackles for the Tigers, who forced three turnovers. Playing in place of Dangerfield, freshman Walter Dunston made five tackles and intercepted a pass.
“After we lost to Old Dominion a few weeks ago, we knew our backs were against the wall,” recalled Enders. “We came together as a team and we dedicated ourselves to run the table.”
In mid-October, the Tigers had a 3-4 overall record and were 2-2 in the CAA. In successive weeks, they went on the road and beat No. 19 Villanova and No. 23 Delaware. After a win over unranked Rhode Island, the Tigers completed their run with their 64-35 win over No. 7 New Hampshire.
Now, they will wait to see if they receive a bid on Sunday.
“The things we can’t control are the things that give us the most stress,” said Coach Ambrose. “We are 7-and-4 with two games against FBS teams (Kent State, LSU). If we didn’t play those games, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation and we’d be in the playoffs.
“We should be in the playoffs,” he added. “We beat three ranked teams on the road in the last four weeks and that speaks highly about our program.”
Last season, Towson made its first appearance in the FCS playoffs and dropped a 40-38 heart-breaker to Lehigh.