By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
TOWSON, MD. — Coming into Saturday’s second-round NCAA Division I Football playoff game with Towson, Fordham knew it had to contain Terrance West, the best running back in the Football Championship Subdivision.
And considering that the Rams limited FCS’s leading rusher to 76 yards and a 3.2 yards-per-carry average on 24 attempts, it might have seemed to be mission accomplished.
But Towson countered with a wide-open passing attack as quarterback Peter Athens completed 13-of-15 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns as the Tigers rolled to a 48-28 victory before 4,671 fans at Johnny Unitas Stadium.
And then there was Darius Victor spelling West for a game-and-career-high 105 yards rushing on 12 carries. Victor had a key 41-yard touchdown on a screen pass in the second quarter to give the Tigers a 21-7 lead and added a game-clinching 22-yard TD dash midway through the fourth period to put the game out of reach.
“This was (Victor’s) first postseason game,” said Towson coach Rob Ambrose. “He obviously wanted to be it good.”
While West was largely contained, he did manage to score three times on runs of one, five and 14 yards, two of those touchdowns coming in the decisive third quarter to make it 42-21. A 54-yard by West scoring run in the third period was derailed on a holding call.
The Tigers had another touchdown, a 49-yard punt return from Brian Dowling in the second period, also negated by a penalty.
With the win — the first FCS playoff victory in Towson history — the seventh-seeded Tigers will be on the road to play at No. 2 Eastern Illinois next Saturday. It was the first postseason victory for Towson since a 1984 Division II win over Norfolk State.
Towson threatened to blow the game open in the first half, but Fordham took advantage of some Tiger special teams miscues to crawl back into the game and make it 21-21 at the intermission.
Fordham had a 227-199 advantage in total offense at the break, but Towson turned that around to make it 490-426 in the Tigers’ favor by the end of the game.
Towson was able to wear down the Fordham defense in the second half, while holding the potent Ram attack to just one more score.
“We knew going in, the margin of error was going to be small and we didn’t overcome it,” Fordham coach Joe Moorhead said. “They have a lot of weapons offensively. What makes them particularly effective is their ability to throw the ball. You can’t just concentrate on stopping the running game.”
With Michael Nebrich throwing to three outstanding wide receivers (Sam Ajala, Brian Wetzel and Tebucky Jones, Jr.) and tight end Dan Light — who had a stadium-record 13 catches for 122 yards to tie Ryan Spadola of Lehigh’s mark — the Rams had their chances to keep things close in the second half, but some key penalties cost Fordham at the worst of times.
The Rams also missed missed two field goals. Michael Marando was narrowly wide left on the final play of the first half with a 41-yard attempt that would have given Fordham a three-point lead and his 48-yard knuckler in the fourth quarter his the crossbar.
Marando had nailed the crossbar last week in the playoff win over Sacred Heart, only to have the kick bounce over the bar for a key field goal. He isn’t get any luck this time.
“Ultimately in the second half, we stopped ourselves,” said Nebrich, who was 37-of-50 passing for 394 yards and four touchdowns and added 32 yards on the ground. “We didn’t take advantage in the red zone.”
Ajala was brilliant in defeat, setting a Patriot League record for single-season pass receiving yardage (1,646) as he caught eight passes for 120 yards and touchdowns of 23 and 37 yards.
But Towson’s defense did was solid against the run, limiting senior All-American back Carlton Koonce to 26 yards on 12 carries in his final college game and holding the Rams to 32 yards on 30 rushes overall.
“This game was a shoot-out until the third quarter,” said Moorhead. “At that point, Towson put together some scoring drives and we couldn’t match them.”
It was a record-shattering season for Fordham in its modern football era, with the Rams setting marks for wins and numerous offensive standards, while going 12-2.
Towson, meanwhile, set a school record with its 11th victory. The Tigers are now 11-2 on the season.
“There is a very good football team that is getting on the bus and quits playing,” said Ambrose. “But there is a really, really good football team down in our locker room that gets to keep playing.”