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At end of dream season, Towson falls to North Dakota State, 35-7, in FCS final

After pulling away in crucial second quarter, undefeated Bison claim third straight national title

By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

8:05 AM EST, January 5, 2014

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FRISCO, Texas — Players on Towson’s football team declined to pose for pictures with the national championship trophy Friday, with senior linebacker Monte Gaddis insisting there would be plenty of time after the Football Championship Subdivision title game Saturday for him and his teammates to do so.

Those plans, however, will have to wait. Before an announced 19,802 at Toyota Stadium, the No. 7 seed Tigers fell to No. 1 seed and two-time reigning national champion North Dakota State, 35-7, in the program's biggest-ever game.

Junior running back Terrance West (Northwestern) carried the ball 22 times for 99 yards, caught five passes for 39 yards, and scored one touchdown to add to his FCS record of 42 this season and his career mark of 86.

But Towson’s bid for the school’s first Division I national crown in any sport was denied by a Bison squad that finished 15-0 this season, extended its winning streak to 24 games and joined Appalachian State as the only programs to capture three straight FCS championships.

“I have to give credit to coach [Craig] Bohl, his program, his players, his staff and North Dakota State’s fans,” Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. “They are undefeated for a reason. They are one, and they are perfect.”

Statistically, the Tigers (13-3) outplayed North Dakota State. They had more yards on offense (373 to 345), more first downs (21 to 16) and greater time of possession (33:38 to 26:22).

But those numbers masked the issue that bedeviled Towson: mistakes.

Tied at 7-7, Towson (13-3) looked to take the lead late in the second quarter on senior kicker D.J. Soven's 41-yard field goal. But Soven’s try was blocked by North Dakota State junior strong safety Colton Heagle, and junior defensive end Kyle Emanuel scooped up the loose ball and returned it 59 yards to the Tigers’ 5-yard line.

One play later, senior wide receiver Ryan Smith scored on an end-around to the right to give the Bison a 14-7 lead.

Ambrose said the blocked field goal amounted to a “legitimate 10-point swing. … We made a mistake, and they made us pay for it. We all knew what kind of game it was at that point, and things were moving in the right direction, at least for us. Head-to-head, pretty even. Like I said before, they are perfect. The margin for error is small. We made an error, and they made us pay for it.”

On the Tigers’ ensuing possession, the offense marched to North Dakota State’s 45, but senior quarterback Peter Athens picked a bad time for his first interception of the postseason. He overthrew junior wide receiver Brian Dowling on a deep post route, and Bison sophomore cornerback C.J. Smith picked off the ball and returned it 32 yards to Towson’s 43.

Five plays later, senior quarterback Brock Jensen connected with junior wide receiver Zach Vraa for a 12-yard touchdown, boosting North Dakota State’s lead to 21-7 with 1:05 remaining in the first half.

The problems only continued. Late in the third quarter, backup quarterback and occasional punter Connor Frazier flubbed a rugby kick from the Tigers’ end zone that skipped out of bounds at their own 31.

North Dakota State needed seven plays to get a 1-yard touchdown run from senior running back Sam Ojuri with 13:09 left in the fourth quarter.

The 28-point loss was Towson’s worst since a 48-0 drubbing by Delaware on Nov. 6, 2010. The Tigers’ seven points were their fewest since a 28-3 loss to Maryland on Oct. 1, 2011.

Towson avoided becoming the fourth opponent in the playoffs to lose to North Dakota State by at least 30 points, but the 28-point win was the Bison’s largest of its three national championships.

West, who is regarded as an NFL-caliber running back, said he has not made a decision on whether to forgo his senior year, and will meet with Ambrose on Sunday to discuss his future.

For the 17 Towson seniors playing in their final game, the end to their careers was a bitter one.

“It’s a difficult one,” Gaddis said. “This was our last game. So we wanted to go out with a bang, with a win. But this is a difficult one.”

edward.lee@baltsun.com