In recent weeks, Towson has ridden a series of miraculous comebacks and thrilling finishes to its best start at the Division I level.
On Saturday, the Tigers finally ran out of magic.
Sophomore Andrew Pierce rushed for a season-high 158 yards and three touchdowns, out-dueling Towson freshman Terrance West, and No. 21 Delaware held off No. 13 Towson, 35-30, before an announced 8,122 at Johnny Unitas Stadium.
West ran for a career-high 155 yards and four touchdowns, but he couldn't help the Tigers score in the final 22:44.
"Our youth showed its face today in a number of different ways, finally," Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. "Instead of living by our rear ends, scoring in the fourth quarter and finding a way to come from behind, we finally lost a hand."
The loss was the Tigers' first against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent this season, and it broke their string of four straight wins against ranked teams.
Towson (6-2 overall, 4-1 Colonial Athletic Association) can keep alive its hopes for a league title -- and an automatic bid to the 20-team NCAA tournament -- Saturday against first-place Maine.
Trailing by one, Delaware rode the legs of Pierce to the lead. He carried the ball five straight times in the red zone, finally scoring from the 5 with 2:05 left in the third.
Attempting to rally back, Towson quarterback Grant Enders (Old Mill) threw two interceptions in the final 11:16, including one by linebacker Paul Worrilow at the Towson 43 that all but sealed the outcome with 2:32 left.
Towson had one final chance when Nick Oates blocked Sean Baner's 38-yard field goal attempt with 59 seconds left, but Enders' Hail Mary on fourth down from the Delaware 48 was batted out of bounds in the endzone as time expired.
Delaware (5-4, 3-3), the FCS national runner-up last season, broke a two-game losing streak.
"The last two weeks we've been very fragile, in terms of we make a mistake and let it linger," said Blue Hens coach K.C. Keeler, whose team was outgained, 388-257.
Towson jumped on top early by forcing turnovers on Delaware's first two drives.
First the Tigers' Tye Smith sacked quarterback Tim Donnelly and forced a fumble, which teammate Romale Tucker recovered at Towson's 41. Four plays later, West (Northwestern) took a handoff, started right, then cut back behind a block and outran the defense for a 46-yard touchdown. D.J. Soven then added a 28-yard field goal after linebacker Kenton Powell intercepted a tipped pass.
But trailing 10-0, the Blue Hens quickly changed the complexion of the game with an 80-yard kickoff return by Michael Johnson. The play, which led to a short touchdown run by Donnelly, was especially painful for Towson, which lost top pass rusher Frank Beltre to an unspecified injury.
After falling behind 16-14, the Blue Hens jumped back on top on an 86-yard kickoff return by Travis Hawkins, then extended their lead to 29-16 on Pierce's 13-yard run with just over two minutes left in the half.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun