By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
ORONO, ME. — There are no league championship trophies in Towson University's football awards case.
But after a 40-30 victory over Maine Saturday afternoon at Alfond Stadium in a first-place showdown, the Tigers control their own destiny and can clinch a share of the Colonial Athletic Association title and the league's automatic playoff bid with wins in their final two regular season games.
Playing in arguably the most important contest in the school's football history, Towson (7-2 overall, 5-1 in the CAA) showed none of the nerves you might expect from a program that has never reached such lofty heights before.
Coming off a 35-30 loss to Delaware at home the previous week, Towson could have shown panic.
Instead, the Tigers grabbed the lead midway through the the first quarter and never trailed.
"As far as we have been behind historically, we're working our way up from zero," said Towson coach Rob Ambrose. "We're doing 15 years of work in five."
On offense, Towson used dominating line play to roll up 334 yards of rushing.
Freshman sensation Terrance West rushed just 21 times for 183 yards and three touchdowns, giving him 10 TDs for the season, while Tremayne Dameron added 19 carries for 109 yards, with a touchdown on the ground and another on a key 33-yard scoring play in third period.
"Having a great line is what makes a great running back," said Dameron. "Last year gave them the experience they needed and now they are coming into their own."
Quarterback Grant Enders more managed the game than anything else, running 10 times for 40 yards and a touchdown and completing 6-of-13 passes for 84 yards and one score.
As has been its nature during this most dramatic of seasons, Maine made several efforts to come back off the mat, but Towson countered every Black Bear charge.
After taking control 20-7 in the first half on a pair of TD thrusts by West of eight and two yards and a 19-yard scoring scamper by Dameron, the Tigers gave back some momentum when Michael Cole blocked a D.J. Soven extra point and Trevor Coston scooped it up with one arm and returned it for a defensive two-point conversion to make it 20-9 at the half.
Things got tighter for the Tigers when Maine's Roosevelt Boone returned a short Soven kickoff 24 yards to the Towson 43. It took 11 plays and over five minutes, but David Hood (23 carries, 85 yards) finally scored on a one-yard plunge to cut the TU lead to 20-16.
But Towson countered with scores on its next two drives to put some more distance between itself and Maine (7-2, 5-1).
With nearly everyone expecting a running play on a second and one situation, Enders ran a bootleg to the left side and then found Dameron running a wheel route on the right sideline. Dameron hauled in the pass and sprinted into the end zone as Towson went up 26-16.
"It was a great call," said Enders. "I can't say enough about our offensive line. Down the line, they are a bunch of tough guys. They are great players and it is easy to be balanced with them."
A missed PAT by Soven left the Black Bears trailing by 10 points, but Maine was held on downs on one possession and quarterback Warren Smith (26-of-41, 256 yards, two TDs through the air) tossed his second interception to kill another threat.
After Kenton Powell grabbed that errant pass and returned it 30 yards to the Maine 26, Enders directed a drive down to the two before sprinting around the corner for a touchdown that made it a 33-16 game with 13:28 left in the fourth quarter.
It took only one play for the Black Bears to come roaring back as Smith hit Damarr Aultman on a quick pass. Aultman spun away from a group of defenders and dashed into the end zone for a 53-yard scoring play to cut the lead to 33-23 with 13:09 left.
A chance to pull closer, after Enders was sacked by Cole and his fumble was recovered by Erwin Roach at the Towson 27, was negated when Brian Harvey missed a 42-yard field goal.
"We got behind, we fought hard and we got ourselves back into the game after the turnover," Maine coach Jack Cosgrove said. "If you score, one way, or another, it's a one-score game and we didn't get it done."
From then on, the Black Bear defense had no answer for West and the Tiger rushing attack. On the second play of its next drive, Towson got into scoring range on a 35-yard West slash to the Maine 37 and eventually scored on West's four-yard burst to cap a 10-play, 75-yard march that milked a crucial five minutes off the clock.
Smith managed one more score for Maine with a three-yard TD toss to Arthur Williams with three minutes remaining, but Towson was able to run out the rest of the clock with a 10-point lead.
"Obviously, we were beat by a good football team," said Cosgrove. "Towson came in here and played a solid football game today. We did something that obviously, I'm not happy with."
It was pretty similar to the way Towson had felt the previous weekend.
"They pretty went through the same experience we went through today," said Cosgrove. "They didn't feel good about getting beat last week at home by Delaware and we didn't feel very good getting beat at home this week by Towson."
Meanwhile, Towson showed it has the resiliency to step it up after a loss.
"I'm very proud of how the players responded after last week's game," said Ambrose.
So now, the Tigers are tied for first place with Maine and New Hampshire as the CAA championship race enters a furious two-week sprint. The Tigers host New Hampshire on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Johnny Unitas Stadium and then close the regular season at Rhode Island.
Maine hosts Massachusetts and then travels to New Hampshire in the final two weeks.
"Each and every week is obviously an adventure in this league," said Cosgrove. "Every week this year has presented us with an experience. How are we going to respond to this is the question?"
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