Towson earns berth in National Championship game
Sophomore quarterback Connor Frazier had thrown four passes this season before Saturday’s Football Championship Subdivison semifinal match against the Eastern Washington Eagles.
But when senior quarterback Peter Athens went down with an injury and Towson faced a 10-point deficit with less than 12 minutes remaining, Frazier was called on to lead the team back. He entered the red turf at Roos Field in Cheney, Wa. and led his team to victory.
Down 31-21 with 11:55 remaining in the game, Towson’s chances to clinch a berth in the National Championship game were slim. However in Towson’s last two drives, Frazier completed six passes and rushed for 61 yards, including the game-winning touchdown with 17 seconds on the clock.
“Connor is a hell of a ballplayer and he’s practiced these scenarios over and over again throughout the season. He’s a smart guy,” Head Coach Rob Ambrose said. “We had all the same moving parts on the field; we just had a different guy calling the shots.”
On the first drive, the Tigers went 75 yards in 6:46 to cut the Eagles’ lead to 31-28. Frazier did not complete a pass on the drive, but junior running back Terrance West capped off the drive by dodging a few Eagle tackles and changing direction to find the end zone from three yards out.
Towson’s defense needed to stop quarterback Vernon Adams and the Eastern Washington offense, which had outscored Towson 17-7 in the second half. However, on fourth down inside Towson territory, Adams overthrew wide receiver Cooper Kupp to give Towson 1:40 to attempt to win the game.
Frazier then used him arm to lead the Tigers past the Eagles, who had made two consecutive semifinal appearances. He passed for 48 yards and ran for the other 23 on a 71-yard drive that ended in when the offensive line allowed Frazier to push himself in for the score from one yard out.
Ambrose said the decision to give Frazier the ball in lieu of West was a tough one.
“There was a little bit of discussion over the headset as to what we would do. You got an All-American tailback, fullback and some offensive linemen, part of your instinct is to give them the ball,” Ambrose said. “They were keying on [Terrance West] as well as any team we’ve ever played. In the end we made the call for Connor to get it in.”
Towson did not waste time getting on the scoreboard, putting together a 10-play, 73-yard drive to go up 7-0 early in the first quarter. West rushed for 34 yards on the drive that ended in a play-action pass to sophomore full back Emmanuel Holder at the one-yard line.
West finished with 115 yards and two touchdowns, moving him to 2,420 yards and 41 all-purpose touchdowns, both FCS single-season records.
Eastern Washington took its first drive deep into Towson territory, after Adams found Kupp for two passes that put the team inside the Towson 20. However, Kupp fumbled after his second reception, and Towson took over at its own 12-yard line.
Adams, who finished second in Walter Payton Award voting, tallied 394 passing yards and two touchdowns. Kupp, the Jerry Rice Award winner for top FCS freshman, had 124 yards receiving.
“Every time we had [Adams] bottled up, he found a way to get out. Not only get out, but convert on third downs and get first downs,” Ambrose said. “He is truly one of the best players in the country and the coaches and players respect him greatly.”
The Tigers went 88 yards after the fumble, highlighted by a 50-yard trick play pass from Frazier to senior wide receiver Derrick Joseph. West finished the drive with a one-yard run to put the Tigers up 14-0.
Despite only playing quarterback in the second half, Fraizer had 98 yards passing and rushing, including a rushing touchdown.
After the teams traded punts, Athens led the way on a 91-yard touchdown scoring drive. Athens completed two passes of over 30 yards on the series, including a 38-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Brian Dowling on fourth and three.
Adams continued his efficiency on the next drive, responding to the Towson score with 66 passing yards. He brought his team to the Towson eight-yard line, where he passed to running back Quincy Forte for the touchdown to cut the deficit to 21-7.
The Tigers looked primed to increase their lead with less than five minutes left in the first half, but Athens could not handle the snap and fumbled. The Eagles took over and went 63 yards in two minutes.
Athens injured his shoulder on the Tiger drive and did not return for the second half.
With 12 seconds remaining, Adams had the Eastern Washington at the Towson one-yard line with no timeouts. On third down, Adams attempted to run for the touchdown, but was stopped by sophomore cornerback Donnell Lewis at the one-yard line to end the half.
The Eagles came out of the half strong, compiling a 10-play, 92-yard drive that saw Adams complete four passes. His final pass came on fourth-and-two inside Tiger territory, which gave the Eagles a first down, allowing Forte to finish off the drive with a six-yard run.
Frazier entered the second half as the quarterback, and he got Towson to midfield, but it was forced to punt.
“It took us a while to get in a rhythm with him at the helm and I think it was a little emotional downer when they saw Pete go out,” Ambrose said. “It was an emotional letdown, but we found a way to pick it up again and recover as a team and make plays when we need to.”
Adams then led another long drive for Eastern Washington, going 86 yards to the Towson five-yard line. However, the Towson defense held strong, forcing a 22-yard field goal by kicker Kevin Miller to cut the lead to 21-17.
With Frazier under center, the Tigers were forced to punt again, but graduate Drew Evangelista’s kick was blocked by the Eagles. Running back Mario Brown went 23 yards on two plays to give the Eagles their first lead at 24-21.
After another Towson three-and-out, Adams passed to wide receiver Cory Mitchell for the 13-yard touchdown. The quarterback had 56 passing yards on the drive that put Eastern Washington up 31-21.
Frazier led his team to two touchdowns on the next two drives, clinching a Tiger win and a berth in the National Championship game.
Towson will now set its sights on Frisco, Texas, where it will face the No. 1 seed North Dakota State Bison on Jan. 4. The game is set to begin at 2 p.m.
“They are perfect. They are a dynasty,” Ambrose said. “There’s a reason they’ve been the No. 1 team as long as they have. It’s been a millennium since they lost a game.”