A week after setting a career high with 343 yards and two touchdowns on 22-for-33 passing in a 44-28 win against then-No. 19 New Hampshire, Towson’s Peter Athens had better numbers Saturday night against No. 15 Villanova. He finished 24-for-41 for 355 yards and two scores.
But the fifth-year senior also threw three interceptions, including two in the fourth quarter.
The first two interceptions could hardly be blamed on Athens. The first one was batted up in the air by Wildcats junior nose tackle Pat Williams, and the second one ricocheted off junior wide receiver Derrick Joseph and into the waiting hands of sophomore safety Cameron McCurry.
But after sophomore Arione Scott blocked a Villanova punt to put the No. 3 Tigers (6-1, 2-1 Colonial Athletic Association) at the Wildcats’ 37-yard line, Athens spotted junior wide receiver Brian Dowling sprinting past senior cornerback Craig James down the left sideline and toward the end zone. When Athens didn’t put enough strength into the pass, James intercepted the floater at Villanova’s 5 to preserve a 45-22 advantage with 11:08 left in regulation.
“The yards look nice, and we moved the ball, but too many critical errors,” coach Rob Ambrose said of Athens’ performance. “We get the turnover on the punt, we have a good play called, Brian runs a great route, and Peter underthrows the ball. He puts a little more air under the ball, it’s a touchdown in one play and, all of a sudden, things happen. But that’s the difference in inches. I don’t want to be trite, but a difference in inches is a big deal. Those 2 inches were the difference between a touchdown and a pick. And Peter knows. He knows he did some good stuff and he did some bad stuff. We’ll work on it.”
Wildcats coach Andy Talley speculated that Athens was a victim of Towson being forced to abandon the running game after Villanova raced to a 21-0 advantage in the first quarter.
“I think he was at a disadvantage because they were behind, and you knew he had to throw the ball,” Talley said. “So you’re almost anticipating. I think their game is play-action passing. That’s what they’ve made their money on. I didn’t see any bootleg, I didn’t see [them] drive the tailback in and pull it off and dump the ball in the flat and throw to your wideout off play-action. That’s their game. They’re not a dropback team.
"But because they were behind, you’re not going to play-act us when you’re 21 points behind. You’re going to get in the pocket, try to spread the field and throw the football. That’s not who they are. They want to keep you honest with Terrance West, and now you think, ‘I’ve got to stop them,’ and you bite on them, and the tight end’s in the flat, the fullback’s in the flat, and they just dink you to death. So I think that was difficult for them.”