Towson picks up first ever FCS playoff win
Towson pulled away from the Fordham Rams on Saturday at Johnny Unitas Stadium to clinch a spot in the FCS Playoff Quarterfinals to face Eastern Illinois, the No. 2 seed in the tournament. The 48-28 win is the first ever in the FCS Playoffs for Towson (11-2, 6-2 Colonial Athletic Association).
“A very good football team is getting on a bus and going home,” Head Coach Rob Ambrose said. “But there’s a really, really good football team in the [locker room] that is going to keep playing, and that was offense, defense and special teams that got that done.”
Senior quarterback Peter Athens turned in a strong performance, completing 13 of 15 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday.
“We played a defense that stacks the box and the coaches really put a great game plan to help us out with that,” Athens said. “I have complete faith in our young receivers and I know the coaches do as well. They stepped up and played a heck of a game.”
After forcing a Rams three-and-out on the first drive, the Tigers wasted no time establishing their run game.
West and freshman running back Darius Victor combined for 32 rushing yards on the Tigers’ first drive, which ended with a West one-yard touchdown run on fourth down.
Fordham (12-2) responded on the next drive. Quarterback Michael Nebrich threw for 71 yards on the drive, completing passes to four different receivers on the drive, including a nine-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jorge Solano to tie the game.
Towson countered the Fordham score with a seven-play, 64-yard drive that culminated with a pass from Athens to senior tight end James Oboh on fourth down for a touchdown.
The Rams took the next drive into Tiger territory, behind a one-handed catch by wide receiver Brian Wetzel. However, Nebrich’s pass to tight end Dan Light on fourth down was stopped two yards short.
Towson kept the offensive pressure on the Fordham defense, going 63 yards to take a two-touchdown lead. On third down at the Fordham 41-yard line, Athens found Victor on a screen and the running back did the rest, pushing tackles to find the end zone give Towson a 21-7 lead.
Victor finished with 75 rushing yards and the 41-yard touchdown reception.
“This was his first postseason game. From the way he played it was obvious he wanted it to be a good one,” Ambrose said. “The ability to have multiple guys at the same position that are quality players is clearly an advantage for us. Terrance is one of the few people on the Earth I probably would not want to tackle, but after today you can add one more player to that list.”
The Tigers defense forced a sack at the Rams’ 14-yard line on the following series, but sophomore wide receiver Navassa Brown hit the Rams punter on fourth down. This drew a flag, which gave the Rams the chance to go 89 yards for the touchdown. Nebrich led his team down the field on the drive, which ended with a 23-yard pass to wide receiver Sam Ajala to cut the lead to 21-14.
Another Towson stop put Fordham in a fourth down situation at its own four-yard line on the next drive. However, the ensuing Fordham punt was muffed by sophomore wide receiver Brian Dowling and recovered by the away team.
The Rams took advantage of the opportunity despite heavy pressure from the Tiger defense.
On fourth-and-13 at the Tiger 37-yard line, Nebirch found Ajala again for the score, tying the game up with 49 seconds left in the half.
Fordham’s ensuing kick hit junior defensive back Thomas Bradley in the back, and the kicking team recovered the ball. Nebrich led his team to the Towson 24-yard line, where Fordham kicker Michael Marando missed the 41-yard field goal attempt to end the half.
The Tigers had possession to begin the second half, and went 76 yards in less than two minutes to take the lead again. After a screen pass gave the Tigers a first down in Rams territory, Athens went deep to find freshman wide receiver Andre
Dessenberg for a 46-yard touchdown. Athens’s pass to Dessenberg was his third touchdown of the game, marking a career-high. “I think they had a lot of weapons offensively, starting with Terrance West and Darius Victor,” Fordham Head
Coach Joe Moorhead said. “But I think you saw today what makes them particularly dangerous is their ability to throw the ball as well.”
Fordham drove to the Towson 30-yardline after the touchdown, but a botched snap was recovered by the Towson defense at its 46-yard line.
West cashed in on the opportunity when he burst through the Fordham line for a five-yard touchdown to give Towson a 35-21 lead.
The Rams looked to be primed to cut into the Tigers’ lead, but two penalties pushed Nebrich and his offense into a fourth-and-21 at the Tiger 30-yard line. Marando’s field goal attempt hit the low crossbar and was no good.
“They were disguising their coverages a little bit more than we’d seen on film,” Nebrich said. “But we figured out what [they] were doing, but we stopped ourselves. We didn’t capitalize when we got into the red zone and that ended up hurting us.”
After this missed opportunity for Fordham, Towson put together an eight-play, 70-yard drive that included two Athens passes to Oboh and sophomore fullback Emmanuel Holder. West crossed the pylons again from 14 yards out to give Towson a 42-21 lead.
Down three scores, Nebrich brought his team within 14 after five plays.
A Rams drive was highlighted by a 36-yard pass to tight end Dan Light and finished with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Wetzel.
Fordham attempted an onside kick after its score, but Bradley recovered the ball, giving Towson quality field position.
Victor cashed in on the scoring chance, going 22 yards for another touchdown with less than seven minutes remaining.
However, the extra point was blocked.
The Rams drove down the field, but could not score on fourth down, giving the Tigers the ball and the victory.
Towson will travel to Charleston, Ill. to face the Eastern Illinois Panthers on either Friday, Dec. 13 or Saturday, Dec. 14 in the FCS Quarterfinals.
Eastern Illinois was ranked No. 1 overall in the coaches’ poll prior to the start of the playoffs, and defeated Tennessee State in their game on Saturday 51-10.