The win capped a 5-6 season for Towson, which improved on last year’s 4-7 finish but missed the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the fourth straight time.
That won’t happen in 2018, Tigers coach Rob Ambrose said afterward.
“I can’t stand losing. I hate it almost more than I like winning,” Ambrose said. “Losing keeps me up at night and makes the offseason hard. Come hell or high water, we’re going [to the playoffs] next year.”
“I don’t make promises I can’t keep,” Ambrose said.
All of the Tigers’ skill-position players are underclassmen, including Stover, a freshman who riddled Rhode Island for 218 yards passing in his best game yet. Erratic all year, Stover clicked against the Rams, throwing touchdowns to four different receivers while also rushing six times for 36 yards.
“He gets an A-minus,” Ambrose said, citing Stover’s two interceptions. “He’s hot and cold, like any young guy. When he’s on, he’s really on, and when he’s off, my hair turns gray and falls out.”
Stover, who declined to speak to the media after the game, took the reins during Towson’s opener, a 10-0 defeat of Morgan State. In that one, starter Morgan Mahalak suffered a concussion that might’ve ended his football career. It was a brutal baptism for Stover as the Tigers — who also lost Shane Simpson, their star running back, to injury — dropped five of their next six games.
“You can lose your stud quarterback and survive, and you can lose your stud running back and survive — but not both,” Ambrose said.
But Towson rebounded to win three of its last four. On Saturday, the Tigers spotted the Rams (3-8) a 7-0 lead, then scored the next eight points on a safety and 33-yard touchdown reception by Sam Gallahan. Rhode Island countered with a field goal to go ahead, 10-8, in the second quarter. Then Stover got hot, hitting Jabari Allen (21 yards), Shane Leatherbury (13 yards) and Ellis Knudson (2 yards) for touchdowns.
The four touchdown passes was the most for a Towson quarterback since Grant Enders (Old Mill) did it in 2012.
Leatherbury, a redshirt sophomore from Salisbury, had six receptions, none bigger than that scoring pass. Chased from the pocket, Stover rolled out and fired to the end zone where Leatherbury made a diving catch.
“I didn’t doubt [the touchdown] for a second,” Leatherbury said, adding that he and Stover “have that trust now.” He’s one of 22 Towson players who’ve caught at least one pass, most in the FCS this year.
“When everyone is getting the ball, that’s when it’s the most fun,” Leatherbury said.
Meanwhile, the Tigers defense held Rhode Island scoreless for the second half. D’Sean Cummings, a 6-foot-5, 252-pounder, had two of Towson’s five sacks as other veterans chipped in.
“Having all of the seniors get a sack was the way we wanted to go out,” said Cummings, from Clinton. “And the W on top of that was incredible. You can’t ask for more, as a senior.”