Towson falls in National Championship
As the yellow sea of the North Dakota State contingent engulfed the field at Toyota Stadium, Towson fans were left with disappointment. Towson had a chance to win a National Championship on Saturday, but it could not stop the North Dakota State Bison, who ran past the Tigers 35-7.
The attendance reached 19,802, with a majority of that number coming from Bison faithful. However, a few hundred Tiger fans, alumni and former players formed two slivers of black among the yellow masses.
These fans took part in Fan Fest Friday night, arrived at the stadium four hours before kickoff and were treated to a pep rally prior to the game. They came via plane and (for some) bus to see history made, as the Tigers were playing in their first ever Division-1AA Championship.
Head Coach Rob Ambrose recognized the fact that, although his team lost, they are part of Towson history.
“While we lost [Saturday], we won the year. They made history,” Ambrose said. “I don’t think it’s possible to be more proud of a group of men than I am right now. It’s one more step in the building process. Clearly we’re not there yet. But we’re getting pretty dang close.”
North Dakota State was riding a 23-game winning streak and brought two consecutive championships to Frisco, Tx., but Towson hung tight throughout the first quarter.
However, the Tigers’ second quarter proved to be the turning point in the game. The teams came into the quarter tied at seven, but a blocked field goal attempt and an interception kick-started a 28-0 run for North Dakota State that sealed the game.
“Things were moving in the right direction. Head-to-head, we were pretty even,” Ambrose said. “[The Bison] are perfect. The margin of error is small, and they made us pay for [the mistakes].”
The game began slow, as both teams punted away their first drives. However, Towson was pinned deep into its own territory, which forced a punt that gave North Dakota State good field position at its 46-yard line.
The first play of the Bison’s second drive was the highlight of it, as running back John Crockett rushed for 33 yards to the Tigers 19-yard line. Crockett finished of the drive with a two-yard touchdown run to give the Bison an early 7-0 lead.
Crockett finished with 86 yards rushing on the day, contributing to North Dakota State’s total of 210.
Towson wasted no time answering the North Dakota State score, putting together a 12-play, 77-yard drive to tie the game at 7-7 as the first quarter ended, capped by a Terrance West rushing touchdown.
A series of punts ensued after the game was knotted at seven, but the Tigers earned good field position at its 49-yard line with less than nine minutes left in the half. The Tigers took the drive to the Bison 24-yard line, where they were forced to either kick a field goal or attempt to convert on fourth-and-seven.
Ambrose decided to send senior kicker D.J. Soven on for the 41-yard field goal try, but it was blocked by North Dakota State lineman Colton Heagle, went untouched through the line. Kyle Emanuel then took the ball for the Bison and returned it 59 yards to the Towson five-yard line, where wide receiver Ryan Smith gave his team the 14-7 lead.
West began the next Tiger drive with a 19-yard run and freshman running back Darius Victor carried the load into Bison territory. West finished with 99 yards rushing, pushing him over 2,500 yards on the season.
“I don’t think we played particularly well up front,” Ambrose said. “I thought Terrance played pretty well considering the circumstances, the team he was facing, the defense he was facing, and the conditions in which he had to run.”
However, Athens was intercepted trying to find Dowling in the Bison red zone, and the return forced the Tigers to defend from their own side again.
The game’s Most Valuable Player quarterback Brock Jensen made Towson pay for the turnover when he passed to wide receiver Zach Vraa. North Dakota State took the 21-7 lead into halftime.
“Towson is a very talented offense, and we were hanging in there, but they were moving the football,” North Dakota State Head Coach Craig Bohl said. “So for us to cause those two, whether it was a blocked field goal or the interception, we scored twice on them, and I think that created a ton of energy and momentum.”
Despite holding possession for over seven minutes longer than the Bison, the Tigers faced a two-score deficit entering the second half.
Towson punted away its first drive of the second half, giving Jensen and Crockett a chance to add to the lead. Crockett ran for 28 yards on the drive and Jensen threw for 55, adding the nine-yard touchdown run to put his team up 28-7.
The Tigers amassed 203 yards in the second half, but punted on their first three drives of the half and were held scoreless the rest of the way. The Bison added a rushing touchdown from running back Sam Ojuri to add more breathing room.
The field turf was frequently treated for holes, divots and generally poor conditions, but players from both sides said it didn’t affect the outcome of the game. The Toyota Stadium Vice President of Operations blamed a November ice storm for the poor field conditions.
The Tigers were also without two senior starters: Tight end James Oboh and cornerback Jordan Love. The team announced Saturday morning that both were suspended due to a violation of unspecified NCAA rules.
Towson has come a long way since its 1-10 season in 2010, but senior linebacker Telvion Clark said that this season was a part of the building process.
“We’ve built a lot throughout the course of the season,” Clark said. “I think we really proved a lot this year, although it didn’t end the way we wanted it to. I couldn’t be more proud of my guys, our guys, and the things that we’ve accomplished. The construction project is not over.”