The Towson football team earned the No. 7 seed and a first-round bye in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision tournament, but the break won’t help the offense's top two wide receivers.
Senior Leon Kinnard, who led the Tigers (10-2) in catches with 43 and registered 664 yards and one touchdown, did not play in the team’s 28-17 win against Colonial Athletic Association foe James Madison on Saturday and will miss the entire postseason, according to coach Rob Ambrose.
“Leon’s done,” Ambrose said Sunday, without specifying what ails the Reisterstown native and Loyola graduate. “He’s going to have to have surgery. He’ll be fine eventually, but he won’t be playing any more football this year.”
Kinnard joins junior Spencer Wilkins, who suffered an undisclosed injury in the team’s 48-32 victory over Richmond on Oct. 26. The Ellicott City native and Mount Hebron graduate has not played since then, but still leads Towson in receiving yards (691) and touchdown catches (four).
Asked to describe the impact of the loss of the offense’s top two targets, Ambrose said, “It’s tough, it really is. You’re talking about a senior and a junior with tremendous game experience at the wide receiver position. Now, [junior] Derrick Joseph, [junior] Brian Dowling, [sophomore] Arione Scott, [redshirt freshman] Willie Ponder, these are at best first-year players. In that aspect of our game, it’s getting a little interesting, and the good news is, I’ve got some smart guys on the staff and we’re going to be creative in how we throw the football and to whom. But it’s difficult.”
The absence of Kinnard and Wilkins would seem to put the onus on Joseph (26 catches for 207 yards and one touchdown), Dowling (23-251), Scott (7-84) and Ponder (1-25) to fill the void. But senior quarterback Peter Athens (199-of-316 for 2,634 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions) has other options in senior tight end James Oboh (18-250), junior running back Terrance West (18-185 and one touchdown) and sophomore fullback Emmanuel Holder (11-123 and two touchdowns).
Ambrose said it will be up to Athens to decide where to go with the football.
“You have to take what they give you,” Ambrose said. “You can’t force balls because if you do, you’re bound to make mistakes. What it does is, it forces the guys at those positions to step up and to find more in their game and grow their game at a faster pace and it forces the other aspects of the team to step up. If you’re missing pieces of a building and you have to find ways to support it, the other parts have to be smarter to hold the hole.”
One player who could help the passing attack is sophomore Connor Frazier. Switching from quarterback, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Frazier caught two passes for 42 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown late in the second quarter of Saturday’s victory over James Madison
“He already knows the game and he’s an athletic guy,” Ambrose said of Frazier, who became the first quarterback to line up as a wide receiver and score a touchdown since 1991 when Ambrose did it. “He’s the holder, and we’ve had him on the hands team. He’s got great hands. Quarterbacks are supposed to have the best hands on the team anyhow. They grow up holding the football, and they feel it better than anyone else. So moving him to that position for this game was a no-brainer.”