Cleveland Browns rookie running back Terrance West stood at one end of the field at Johnny Unitas Stadium on Saturday, watching the first half of his former school's season opener against Central Connecticut State.
The Tigers probably wish West had been on the field, and not in the stands, for their 31-27 loss to a Blue Devils team that went 4-8 in 2013.
A mostly gold-clad crowd of an announced 8,058 was treated to an uneven performance by an offense and defense just seven months removed from playing in the Football Championship Subdivision national championship game.
Ranked No. 13 in The Sports Network’s preseason FCS poll, Towson played poorly enough in the first half to get a halftime blistering from coach Rob Ambrose. After the game, Ambrose kept his emotions in check, but he did not try to hide his displeasure.
“I don't care what anybody thinks about us,” he said. “I care what we think about us and what we can be. I've said time and time again to these guys that we are not last year's team. We have to find out who we are. We got a real good dose of exactly what we are and what we aren't, but we got flashes of what we can be, and that's what we've got to focus on and move forward.”
Towson made gaffes on defense and special teams that cost it a 27-24 lead in the final five minutes of the game.
The defense forced Central Connecticut State into a three-and-out with less than four minutes left, but a Tigers player was flagged for roughing the kicker when he plowed into sophomore punter Ed Groth on fourth down.
With a fresh start, the Blue Devils moved into Towson territory, where a sack by senior defensive end Ryan Delaire set up fourth-and-13 from the 36-yard line. But junior quarterback Nick Sangiacomo found freshman wide receiver Joey Fields for a 34-yard connection down the seam.
Two plays later, Central Connecticut State senior running back Rob Hollomon plowed into the end zone from 1 yard out with 36 seconds remaining.
On the Tigers' last-gasp attempt, the offense moved from its 41 to the Blue Devils 31. As time expired, junior quarterback Connor Frazier heaved a throw to sophomore wide receiver Andre Dessenberg near the left front pylon of the end zone. Dessenberg caught the ball, but an official ruled the pass incomplete. Replays appeared to show that Dessenberg's right foot landed out of bounds.
Sophomore tailback Darius Victor led Towson with 105 yards on 19 carries and a 7-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Frazier, making his first career start, rushed 13 times for 80 yards and two touchdowns and was 14-for-26 passing for 125 yards and a touchdown. The offense went three-and-out three times in its first five possessions, and then two more times in their first three series of the second half.
“We had too many penalties and too many mistakes,” Frazier said. “We couldn't get the ball going down the field.”
The defense surrendered 161 rushing yards and two touchdowns to Hollomon, and Sangiacomo went 22-for-28 for 273 yards and two touchdowns. Sangiacomo appeared to target Tigers sophomore cornerback Juleon Killkelly-Lee (Woodlawn) throughout the contest.
“They're a good team,” said senior defensive end Drew Cheripko, who made four tackles and recovered a fumble. “They made a good play. We just have a couple things we need to work on to improve.”
The Tigers next face a West Virginia team that trailed No. 2 Alabama by just three points at halftime before fading late in a 33-23 loss. Ambrose said there is much work to be done during the upcoming week before Saturday's road game.
“We are going to sit down and dissect every aspect of our team — offense, defense and special teams,” he said. “Now, when the proof's in the pudding, we know what we're good at and what we're not good at, what the kids can do to be successful and what we need to work on to have a chance to win.”
A previous version of this article misidentified Central Connecticut State's mascot. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.