The absence of starting wide receivers Spencer Wilkins and Leon Kinnard for seventh-seeded Towson’s second-round game against Fordham in the NCAA Division I Football Championship this Saturday at Johnny Unitas Stadium might be seen as a crippling blow for the Tigers' passing offense.
It could also be viewed as even more of a burden on junior running back Terrance West, who leads the country in average rushing yards (155.4 per game) and rushing touchdowns (30) and ranks second in rushing (1,865 yards). But if the Baltimore native and Northwestern graduate is supposed to wilt in the face of that pressure, he is not budging.
“I love pressure,” West said after practice on Tuesday night. “I love the pressure on my shoulders. I like performing for the fans. I like performing for people that want to see me fall. I’m up for the challenge, and we are up for the challenge. It’s not just me. The team has got my back, and I’ve got their back. Put it all together, and good things will take care of themselves.”
The Tigers (10-2) have relied heavily on West after losing Wilkins, an Ellicott City native and Mount Hebron graduate who led the offense in receiving yards (691) and touchdown catches (four), and Kinnard, a Reisterstown native and Loyola High graduate who led the team in receptions (43), to unspecified season-ending injuries.
Senior quarterback Peter Athens has not surpassed the 171-yard mark in either of his past two starts, but head coach Rob Ambrose said the burden of the offense does not fall solely on West, who is one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Award, given annually to the top player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
“I think it puts a little pressure on the entire team,” he said. “You’ve heard me say time and time again that this is a team game, whether it’s offense, defense or special teams. When one guy goes down, we all have to step up, circle the wagons and bring a little bit more of our game to the table. So I don’t think there’s any pressure on anybody individually. There’s [fewer] arrows in the quiver, so to speak, but we just need to be more accurate.”
West said he is aiming for at least 150 rushing yards against the Rams (12-1). He also knows that if he and the running game can be productive, Towson should be in position to move onto the quarterfinals.
“I’ve got to put out a lot on the field,” West said. “Spencer and Leon were two great wide receivers. That was a big, tough loss. But we can’t stop. We’ve got guys that want to step up, and we’ve got guys that are ready for the challenge. Yes, I’ve got a big role to play. I’ve got to get my yards, I’ve got to put up points on the board and I’m up for the challenge. I’m ready.”