Teams trailing by eleven points with less than six minutes left on the road need every break possible to come away with a win. And that’s exactly what Towson got Saturday in an improbable come-from-behind victory in Norfolk, VA.
Scoring two touchdowns in the final 3:13 of the game, the Towson Tigers defeated the ODU Monarchs 39-35 before a sellout of 19,818 at S.B. Ballard Stadium at Foreman Field. The second touchdown came on a 63-yard touchdown reception by Tom Ryan on a fourth and 29 play with 1:07 remaining. Towson quarterback Grant Enders connected with Ryan at the first down marker, and the receiver fought off multiple defenders to score the touchdown.
In the Zone’s preview of the game, there were two factors that would decide which team was in better position to win – Towson’s grinding running game and Old Dominion’s quick-strike passing attack. Through the first half, the teams played to a standoff in these areas as ODU led 21-17. The Monarchs outgained the Tigers 281-231 but Towson got two long touchdown runs from Terrance West (54-and-47-yards) to keep the game close.
Towson’s superior running game took over in the third quarter, even if ODU’s big plays masked their effects until the fourth quarter. After the teams traded touchdowns on their first possessions, the Tigers took 5:13 to move the ball to ODU’s 19 yard line. Enders’ next pass was intercepted at the goal line and Carvin Powell brought it out to the four.
On the Monarchs’ first play from scrimmage freshman quarterback, Taylor Heinicke, faked a handoff and hit Nick Mayers on a short pass along the left sideline. Mayers took the ball down to the goal line where Towson’s Corey Ford forced a fumble, recovered by ODU’s Prentice Gill in the end zone for a 35-24 lead. Old Dominion kicker Jarod Brown successfully executed an onsides kick, allowing ODU to keep Towson’s offense off the field. Though the drive stalled, the Monarchs pinned the Tigers at their own two yard line.
Through three quarters, ODU’s passing attack had put the team in position to win. Heinicke had completed 21 passes for 351 yards; Mayers led all Monarch receivers with 157 yards on six receptions and a touchdown. But from the start of the fourth quarter, Towson’s running game asserted itself.
Including two plays that ended the fourth quarter, Towson’s first drive of the final quarter chewed-up almost eight minutes on 18 plays. However, the Towson drive ended with nothing to show for it, as Aaron Evans stopped West for a two yard loss on fourth down at ODU’s eight. The Monarchs would go three-and-out and only managed to burn 1:45 on the ensuing drive however, putting the Tigers’ offense in control again. Towson would score a touchdown and convert the two-point attempt to pull within 35-32 with 3:14 remaining.
Still, to this point both teams were in position to win the game. In the Zone’s aforementioned preview it was noted that when two winning teams play to a stalemate, games often come down to a special teams play. And that’s what happened on the subsequent kickoff. Towson successfully executed an onsides kick, taking over on their own 45 yard line.
With momentum slipping away, the Monarchs’ defense stepped up for the moment. They forced a miracle fourth down and 29 yards for Towson from their own 37, with just over a minute remaining in the game.
On the play, Enders moved right on a designed rollout. There were two Towson receivers at the first down marker. Enders opted to go to Ryan, riffling a pass in his direction. Ryan snared the pass between two Monarch defenders, but wasn’t satisfied with only picking up a first down. Once Ryan had possession of the pass, he eluded a couple tacklers initially, and raced down the right sideline. Not to be denied the score, he carried a couple Monarch defenders into the end zone for the touchdown.
Towson would kick-off to ODU with time remaining, but the shocked Monarchs could never regain composure. Heinicke was forced in to throwing an interception on fourth down of its final possession, and the game ended in front of a stunned Foreman Field.
West finished with 148 rushing yards and two touchdowns for Towson, while Enders threw for 314 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. All told, the Tigers (5-1, 3-0) won the time of possession, 38 minutes to 22. It was evident during the fourth quarter that the Monarch defense was wearing out towards the end. Even though Old Dominion (5-2, 1-2) led 35-24 at the end of the third quarter, the Tigers kept to their ball-control game plan rather than panicking and throwing every down.
Both teams hit the road this coming week. The Tigers take on a William and Mary squad that surprisingly held New Hampshire’s offense to 10 points Saturday. Meanwhile ODU travels to Philadelphia to battle a young Villanova Wildcats team. As both Towson and Old Dominion learned from different ends of the spectrum Saturday, they will need to play all 60 minutes to come away with victories next weekend.