CHARLESTON, Ill. — Towson's Terrance West had no idea he had set a record.
"I did? Records don't mean nothing. Our focus is on a national championship," he said.
The junior running back rolled up an FCS playoff-record 354 yards and five touchdowns on 39 carries Friday night as the seventh-seeded Tigers advanced to the FCS semifinals with a 49-39 win over No. 2 Eastern Illinois at snowy O'Brien Field.
West broke a 14-year-old record held by Georgia Southern's Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 333 yards against Massachusetts in 1999. More importantly, he pushed Towson (12-2) into a matchup with the winner of Saturday's Jacksonville State-Eastern Washington matchup next weekend.
Running with power, speed and precision behind an offensive line of four seniors and a freshman, West scored on runs of 9, 63, 6, 5 and 3 yards. The last one, with 7:33 left in the game, gave the Tigers a 49-32 lead.
"The tailback was fantastic," Panthers coach Dino Babers said. "But they blocked us. They manned us up. They were very physical."
After falling behind 14-0 with the first quarter not even eight minutes old, Towson didn't panic. It simply kept pouring West at the aggressive Eastern Illinois defense and finally broke through in a 21-point second quarter.
West broke off runs of 47, 63, 20 and 37 yards, setting up blocks nicely and then using his speed to break big plays down the boundary.
"If you picture making plays, you will make plays," he said.
Still, West had to have some help from a defense that looked helpless when the Panthers (12-2) gained 174 yards in the first quarter, snapping the ball every 17 seconds and staying a step ahead of their guests.
Coach Rob Ambrose said it was literally just a matter of gaining their footing.
"Did you think we were going to shut out the best offense in the country? We knew they would score points, but the name of the game is winning," he said. "We just got in a comfort zone. We finally figured out we weren't truly on ice skates."
Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garropolo completed 38 of 50 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns, including a 39-yard strike to wide-open wide receiver Jeff LePak 25 seconds into the fourth quarter. After a two-point conversion pass from Garropolo to wide receiver Erik Lora, the Panthers drew within 35-32.
But Towson won an exchange of punts and took possession at the Eastern Illinois 42-yard line with 10:57 left. Three plays later, backup running back Darius Victor powered in from the 3 for a 42-32 advantage at the 9:53 mark.
Defensive end Ryan Delaire then sacked Garropolo, forcing a fumble that defensive end Syd Holt recovered at the Panthers' 22. Three plays later, West's fifth score sealed the verdict.
After Eastern Illinois wide receiver Ryan Meyer ran 10 yards with a Garropolo lateral for the game's final score with 3:08 left, West got the record on a 13-yard burst off left tackle.
Lora caught 18 passes for 129 yards, giving him the all-time Ohio Valley Conference record in receiving yards with 4,006. But the senior would have rather continued his college football career another week.
"It's a pretty good accomplishment," he summed up, "but the win was our main goal."
That went to the Tigers -- and their record-setting running back.
NOTES: Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garropolo came into Friday night's game needing five TD passes and 347 yards to hold the FCS season records in each category. ... Garropolo and Towson RB Terrance West are two of the three finalists for the 27th Walter Payton Award, the FCS' version of the Heisman Trophy. ... Referee Andy Keenan drew some boos from the announced crowd of 3,850 when he announced that Eastern Washington, not Eastern Illinois, took a second-quarter timeout.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun