By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
VILLANOVA, PA. — When Villanova coach Andy Talley heard of the turmoil surrounding the Towson football program early last week, he worried that the controversy would have a unifying effect on the defending Colonial Athletic Association champions.
Knowing that it was also a must win for the Tigers, Talley said "We're going to get their best shot."
Talley's fears were well-founded as the Tigers contrasted their best offensive effort of the season, torching the Wildcat defense for 590 yards in a 49-35 victory on a homecoming Saturday afternoon before a crowd of 7,757 at Villanova Stadium.
Towson quarterback Grant Enders completed 16-of-28 passes for four touchdowns and one interception and rushed for a career-high 122 yards on just 12 carries, including a back-breaking 40-yard TD scamper late in the third quarter.
"We’ve been looking for an offensive game like this all year," said Enders, who led the Tigers to their first road win of the season. "Everything was focused and we did a great job executing."
Terrance West, returning to the Towson lineup after missing last week's 31-20 loss to Old Dominion after the death of his grandfather, rushed 23 times for 144 yards and two touchdowns, adding a third score on a 78-yard pass connection with Enders in the first period.
"We knew, going into the game, we needed to stop the run and we didn't do that," said Villanova's weakside safety Ronnie Akins, who led the Wildcats (6-3, 4-2) with nine tackles, including seven solo stops.
For a team that had struggled to find the big-play mentality it had possessed last season, Saturday's game was a flashback to 2011 for the Tigers (4-4 overall, 3-2 in the CAA).
"We didn't make them struggle for everything they got, we needed to make that team work on every single series," Talley said. "We had to fight and pick for everything we got. At some point, 35 points should really be enough to win a game."
With two solid defenses matching up, many would have expected a lowing-scoring battle similar to Towson's 13-10 loss at James Madison earlier this month.
Towson ranked 12th overall and eighth in pass defense, coming in, while Villanova was 19th in points allowed per game (19.0).
But when both teams scored on their opening drives, this game was off to the races and didn't slow down until Towson made several key defensive stops in the second half.
"We decided to add a little effort and juice to everything we did," said Towson coach Rob Ambrose. "We had the juice in the second half to stay alive."
After blowing a two-touchdown lead in the first half at 28-14, the Tigers made sure they maintained that margin when they built it again with heavy pressure on Villanova's redshirt-freshman quarterback John Robertson (17-of-23 passing for 216 yards and four TDs) in the second half.
Robertson was sacked seven times as linebacker Monte Gaddis led the Tiger defensive surge with 12 tackles, nine solo stops, three tackles for loss and two sacks. Free safety Jordan Dangerfield added 11 solo tackles.
"The first half, we started slow," said Gaddis. "The second half, we came out stronger and executed. Maybe we just lessened the mistakes in the second half."
With all of the sacks, Robertson was limited to 21 carries for 27 yards on the ground.
"I felt I was holding onto the ball too long," said the baby-faced Robertson. "I've got to make my reads better."
Kevin Monangui became the first Wildcat rusher since Brian Westbrook in 2001 to compile three consecutive 100-yard performances, running for 103 yards on 17 carries to help fuel the Wildcats, particularly in the first half.
Down 35-28 at the half, Villanova evened the score on a four-yard pass from Robertson to tight end Earnest Pettway just four minuted into the third period.
But drives of 74 and 64 yards that resulted in West's third TD on a four-yard burst and Enders' dash to the house put some needed distance between the Tigers and Wildcats over the second part of the third quarter.
"We kind of got into a match where you had to go score, for score, for score," said Talley. "We're not built for that. We're built for controlling the ball and driving for scores."
Towson's back was already against the wall after Football Bowl Subdivision losses to LSU and Kent State and the brutal march through the CAA left the Tigers with four losses in their first seven games.
Another loss would not only end Towson's hopes of repeating as CAA champions, but would also crush the Tigers' playoff hopes.
But the adversity grew early in the week when the student newspaper at Towson accused coach Rob Ambrose of violating NCAA rules on hours of practice and a pair of disgruntled ex-players claimed that they and other athletes had been mistreated by the Tiger coaching staff.
Towson athletic director Mike Waddell said a school investigation had refuted the practice claims of the Towerlight newspaper and that any behavioral issues with the staff had been addressed.
That didn't keep additional charges and countercharges from raging all week around campus, in the media and on a variety of local and national message boards.
While the debate was raging as to whether the distractions would have a negative impact on the Tigers, the team pulled together.
"With the distractions, we came together as more of a family," said Gaddis.
The emotional Ambrose was moved by his team's response.
"I love my team," said Ambrose. "This victory shows what can happen when everybody pulls together and you don’t care about yourself. If we play like this, we are a very, very, very good team."
The Tigers move on to a grudge match against Delaware — the only CAA to beat Towson during last year's championship run — next Saturday at Tubby Raymond Field.
TU then closes the season with a home game against last-place Rhode Island and road contest at first-place New Hampshire.
For a young, but battered Villanova squad, a bye this week couldn't come at a better time as the Wildcats prepare for James Madison and arch-rival Delaware, with a pair of wins pretty much wrapping up a playoff bid and keeping the hopes of a share of the CAA title alive.
"It's a great time for a bye week for us," said Talley. "Our players can sit and suffer through this loss for two weeks. It's eating at them and it's eating at me right now and we have two weeks to live with it."