It was a week of storms and flooding leading into Towson’s big game against #20 Villanova. Thus, it was only appropriate for the students of Towson to storm the field at Johnny Unitas Stadium following the Tigers 31-10 victory over the Wildcats. They should be excited, after all this senior class hadn’t seen CAA victory at home since their freshmen year (October 11, 2008 – 37-32 over Rhode Island).
With only four wins during Coach Rob Ambrose’s regime heading into the Villanova match-up, Towson needed to start winning games in the CAA this season. Now in the third season of Ambrose’s rebuilding plan, there would be no more coddling the program. Ambrose knew it. His coaching staff knew it. The Towson players knew it. It was time to produce.
Well, if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it in enormous fashion. The Tigers did just that Saturday night when they dominated CAA and FCS perennial power Villanova.
While addressing the media earlier in the week, Ambrose subtlety sent a message when he said, “While we have a tremendous amount of respect for a storied CAA power like Villanova, we want this to be known. We are no longer afraid of the big boys.”
Who that message was intended for remains a mystery. His Tiger’s players? The Wildcats? The entire CAA conference? Whoever it was directed to, the message was received loud and clear.
In what turned out to be a one sided affair at the end, was actually a highly competitive game for nearly three quarters.
On Villanova’s opening drive, they marched the ball down the field behind some shifty running by TB Lawrence Doss (9 rushes for 74 yds) and timely scrambling by quarterback Dustin Thomas.
Perhaps this was too big of a game for the Tigers? Maybe they weren’t ready to run with the “Big Boys”?
Villanova held the ball over five minutes on their 12 play, 70 yard opening drive until Thomas was sacked and fumbled the ball. The underdog Tigers felt a sense of relief. There was renewed energy in the stadium. The fumble recovery by Romale Tucker was game changing play if there ever was one early in a game. Who knows maybe it was season changing play for all we know?
Feeding off the momentum of the defensive stand, the Tiger’s offense methodically moved the ball to the Wildcats’ 41. A sack by Villanova’s Devon Bridges appeared to stall Tiger’s drive. Now facing a third and 15 at Villanova’s 47, it happened. It was the spark that lit the fire.
A simple play by design, but the timing was perfect. Villanova’s defensive line is massive and extremely quick to the ball. They were knocking Towson QB Grant Enders (19 of 26 for 193 yds, 1TD 1 INT) down on nearly every pass attempt.
Enders was the bait for a hungry Wildcats defensive line looking to force a turnover themselves. Enders dropped back to pass. As his receivers sprinted deep down field, he rolled to his left. The Wildcats rush fiercely came straight at him. Enders dropped back further, and as the defenders approached him he calmly lobbed the ball to RB Dominique Booker (3 rec. for 57 yds, 1TD) on the right sideline.
With no defenders in sight and a convoy of linemen in front of him, Booker took the ball untouched to the end zone. By design, that’s how a screen is supposed to work, but rarely it’s that effective.
It was the perfect call at the perfect time. Towson took advantage of a proud Villanova defense looking to make a play and swing momentum in their direction.
Now, with a 7-0 lead the Tigers were starting to believe they could play with Villanova.
After both teams punted on their next possessions, it looked as if this would be a defensive struggle all the way down to the wire.
Villanova was set-up with great field possession at the Tiger’s 18 yard line following a partially blocked punt. After three ineffective plays, the Wildcats kicker Nick Yako pushed a 28-yard field goal attempt wide right. Villanova was doing everything to keep momentum in Towson’s favor.
Right before the half Towson moved the ball down the field with short passes by Enders to four different receivers. RB Terrence West (11 rushed for 40 yds, 2 TDs) took care of the rest once inside the red zone and scored on a 2-yard dive as the half ended with Towson up 14-0.
It was expected Villanova would make a run in the second half to claw their way back into the game. Although a very young team, the Wildcats have plenty of talent. After a halftime lashing from Coach Talley, there was a sense they would find away to pull this one out.
After forcing Towson to punt on their initial drive of the second half, Villanova’s QB Dustin Thomas (10 of 13 for 84 yds) had the Wildcats on the move once again. And once again they reached Towson territory only to fumble yet again.
“This team won’t win any games until we learn how to protect the ball,” Talley said after the game.
Enders and the Tigers offense quickly moved the ball down the field. Taking advantage of a frustrated Wildcats team that was trying to figure out how they were down late in a game to Towson.
The Tigers were knocking on the door once again. In six plays they reached the Villanova four yard line. Once again, West took the handoff and the determined back never stopped pumping his legs, pushing the pile forward until end zone was reached.
With a 21-0 lead by Towson, the stadium was rocking as the student section (some 8,000 strong) now felt the impossible was happening right before their eyes.
Villanova would make a small run at getting back into the game, but it was short lived when QB Dustin Thomas was injured on a scramble – It was later revealed by Coach Talley that Thomas suffered a separated shoulder).
Towson finished off the victory late in the game when electrifying return man Derrick Joseph took a kick-off back 85 yards that was capped by a 3-yd plunge by Booker. Giving the Tigers an insurmountable 31-10 lead with only minutes remaining.
As the final seconds ticked-off the clock the Tigers players gave Ambrose a well deserved Gatorade shower. Upon the final whistle, Towson students stormed the field to celebrate with their fellow students.
After the game, Ambrose was very calm and somewhat at peace with himself. It was almost as if he expected this to happen when everyone else doubted him. “This win was for all of you. For all of those who supported the program during the tough times. We won this for you!”
Photos from the game can be viewed by selecting the link below: