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Towson beats New Hampshire, 56-42, to remain tied for first in CAA

College FootballFootballCollege SportsTowson TigersColonial Athletic AssociationJerry RiceRalph Friedgen

One more win, and Towson's worst-to-first journey in the Colonial Athletic Association will be complete. One more game like the one he had Saturday against New Hampshire, and Terrance West will be a lock for the Jerry Rice award given to the top freshman in the Football Championship Subdivision.

The turnaround Tigers continued their remarkable season and their star but not starting tailback continued his breakout season. After falling behind on the game's first possession, No. 12 Towson scored three touchdowns in less than three minutes and seven in the first half — three by West — en route to a wild 56-42 victory over the No. 7 Huskies at Johnny Unitas Stadium before an announced crowd of 8,366 Saturday night.

West raced 72 yards for a touchdown on his first carry, 69 yards for another, finishing with 261 yards on 23 carries with four touchdowns. It gave him 25 touchdowns this season, the most by any player in the FCS and two more than Tony Vinson's school record in 1993. It was his sixth straight game with over 100 yards and he became the first Tiger to rush for at least 200 in a game in a decade.

It was West's third four-touchdown game of the season.

The victory kept Towson (8-2, 6-1) tied with Maine for first place in the CAA. The Tigers play at Rhode Island Saturday, while the Bears play at New Hampshire (7-3, 5-2). Since Towson won at Maine last week, the Tigers could claim a share of the regular season title with a win.

A win would be the school's first division championship since the 1974 Tigers went unbeaten and won the old Mason-Dixon Conference in Division III.

An outright title would give Towson a spot in the FCS playoffs for the first time since moving up from Division II in 1987. It would also make the Tigers the first team in college football history to go to the playoffs in FCS, Division II and Division III.

If the Tigers end up tied with Maine, a selection committee would likely give them both bids.

"If they don't let us in the playoffs, something would be ridiculously wrong in the world," third year coach Rob Ambrose said. "Yes, we're going. It was a goal from the first day I got here, it's everybody's goal. It's a fact of life, nobody plays to lose, nobody plays not to go to the playoffs. You can't get there by focusing on that goal. There's a million little things in the way that have to be taken care of. If you don't do them, you don't get there."

Like getting players as talented as West, who fell into Ambrose's program last winter after Maryland stopped recruiting him when Randy Edsall replaced Ralph Friedgen.

"He's something else," said longtime New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell. "I've been in this league a long time, since '91, he's got a dynamic presence as a freshman. He's something special."

Asked about breaking Vinson's long-standing record, West said, "I don't pay attention to that, as long as we get the W, that's where I'm at, I'm not trippin' on that (the number of touchdowns). The offensive line is opening up the holes, I just finish it. It's a team thing, it's not just about me."

Senior tackle Henry Glackin said that he loves watching West, kidding, "I only see the best 15 yards of the play, at the end of the play."

West's first big play, coming after the Huskies had taken the early lead, was contagious for the Tigers.

It was followed immediately by a 56-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Grant Enders (14 of 18, 183 yards, two TDs and one interception) to sophomore tight end James Oboh (three catches for 97 yards and two TDs) and then by a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown by freshman cornerback Tye Smith, the first for Towson in five years.

What was Smith thinking about after his first career interception?

"If I get tackled by the quarterback, everybody's going to laugh at me," said Smith, who secured the win with another interception in the end zone late in the game while also making nine tackles and recovering a fumble.

Leading 42-28 at halftime, Towson started the second half with a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by redshirt freshman Derrick Joseph. It was the first time the Tigers had done that since 1995, leading Ambrose to joke later, "I promised that we'd run a kick back for a touchdown within my tenure. Look it up."

It was also the first time the Tigers had ever beaten New Hampshire, which is expected to go to the playoffs for the eighth straight year. It marked the first time Towson had won at least eight games in a season since 1994.

"He's a helluva coach. He's done a helluva job," McDonnell said about Ambrose.

Towson's is the biggest single-season turnaround in either level of Division I football this year, coming after the Tigers finished 1-10 last season. They were 2-9 in Abrose's first year.

"Every alum that ever played here, deep down in his heart, begged and pleaded and thought in his heart that this could always happen, but we were never allowed to do it," Ambrose said. "I'm grateful that it [the losing] stops right here, grateful that we're a part."

Ambrose was particularly appreciative of his 14 seniors, who were honored before the game, for spending a bulk of their college careers in the midst of the program's overhaul.

"There's a group of guys I met when I got here that came out on that field today and everybody needs to give them a world of respect because they stuck it out through the most miserable of times that ever existed, trying to grow up in this league and walking out and playing these monsters week after week," Ambrose said. "There's a special place in my heart for those seniors.".

don.markus@baltsun.com

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