By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
TOWSON, MD. — The numbers from Saturday night's Colonial Athletic Association football survivor's series between Towson and Maine suggested a lopsided victory, not a hang-on-for-your-life 24-19 Tiger win.
No. 14-ranked Towson (3-3 overall, 2-1 in the CAA) piled up 507 yards of total offense compared to Maine's 302 — much of that compiled on a pair of fourth-quarter desperation drives. The Tigers won the time of possession battle, 35-25 (19 1/2 to 10 1/2 minutes in the first half) and held a 20-10 advantage in first downs after three periods.
But with the fourth quarter winding down, the Black Bears (2-4, 1-2) had their chances to overcome all that and win the game.
"We had one on our doorstep," said Maine coach Jack Cosgrove. "We were absolutely going to steal one and we let it get away."
Trailing 17-10 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Black Bears pounded out a 14-play drive to move from their own 37 to the Towson two.
But on a third and goal, an exchange between quarterback Marcus Wasilewski and running back David Hood went awry and Towson linebacker Telvion Clark jumped on it at the three to kill the drive.
It kind of worked out for me," said Clark. "Two of our linebackers were blitzing on that play and I was the clean up guy. It seemed like (Hood) didn't get a handle on (the ball). I kind of got lucky. You play hard and you get lucky."
Dodging that bullet, the Tigers gave the ball back without earning a first down and Maine turned a 27-yard punt return from Maurice McDonald into a 28-yard Sean Decloux field goal to make it a 17-13 game with 6:45 remaining.
Towson answered back with a 52-yard quarterback draw from Grant Enders to seemingly put the game away again at 24-13 with 3:04 on the clock.
"Their defense was pretty aggressive," said Enders, who had eight runs for 98 yards and was 17-of-26 passing for 260 yards. "Dominic Booker made a great block on his guy and I was able to break away."
The gritty Black Bears were not done yet, though, and it took Wasilewski just over two minutes to get Maine into the end zone again on a 13-play, 74-yard march.
Wasilewski (24-of-37 for 159 yards passing, 10 carries for 60 yards rushing) earned the final nine yards himself the hard way, scrambling away from pressure and bulling the final few yards through potential tacklers to crash across the goal line on fourth and five.
A two-point conversion and an onside kick with 38 seconds left would have left Maine with a chance to force overtime with a successful field goal, but Wasilewski was pressured by another strong pass rush on the two-point attempt, throwing the ball to the back of the end zone, but incomplete.
The onside kick was then recovered by sure-handed Towson receiver Tom Ryan and the Tigers went into victory formation.
"A win is sure better than losing," said Towson coach Rob Ambrose, who had suffered through hard-fought losses at LSU (38-22) and James Madison (13-10) in the past two weeks. "A sign of a good team is to find a way to beat the other team."
The Tigers could have made things easier on themselves but for three missed D.J. Soven field goals in the first half — from a kicker who was 12-of-14 lifetime on three-point attempts in his career before Saturday — and an interception from Enders that was returned 92 yards by Maine linebacker Troy Eastman for a second-quarter touchdown.
"I don't think (Enders) saw me," said Eastman. "He threw it in my lap. I saw a lot of white jerseys in front of me."
Instead of getting seven more points to add to a 7-3 lead, Towson was down 10-7.
"Throwing a pick in the red zone — points for us turning into points for them — makes your game more challenging," Ambrose said.
Towson ground out a 14-10 halftime lead on the strength of a one-yard Terrance West TD plunge (18 rushes for 96 yards) in the first quarter and an 18-yard scoring strike from Enders to Erron Banks with 1:22 left in the second period.
Soven finally found his range with a 38-yard field goal in the third period to make it 17-10 and set up another wild fourth quarter for the Tigers.
And it left Maine with more heartbreak in what has been a difficult season.
"Tough loss, very tough loss," said Cosgrove. "We are entitled to have some pain right now. We came down here feeling we were going to win the football game."