Early struggle costs Towson later


For the third straight week, Towson State got stronger as the game wore on, while the opposition weakened.

Unfortunately for first-year coach Gordy Combs and the Tigers, they made a game's worth of mistakes in the first quarter and lost to Liberty, 16-14, Saturday night at Minnegan Stadium.

The Tigers out-gained coach Sam Rutigliano's Flames, 409 yards to 331, and dominated the last three quarters, but Liberty was able to make a 16-0 first-quarter lead stand up.

It was the Flames' sixth straight victory over Towson State, which was seeking to win three in a row for the first time in five years.

Towson State battled back with a pair of touchdowns in the final 16 minutes, as Tony Vinson scored on a 5-yard run and Mark Orlando grabbed a 9-yard touchdown pass from Crowley with 2:18 left.

The Tigers also had a 77-yard drive stall at the Liberty 3-yard line with 5:43 remaining, the fourth time that the Tigers moved inside the Flames' 13 and came away empty-handed. In a nightmarish first half: Buddy Dunn missed a 22-yard field goal; Vinson, who gained 121 yards, lost a fumble at the 12; and Crowley was intercepted in the end zone.

"We've played four games and we've only got 21 first-half points," said Combs. "We talked about the need to score early and often, but that didn't happen."

Combs warned his special teams about Liberty's trick plays, but a well-executed onside kick allowed the Flames to score their final touchdown. His defense did respond, shutting down a Liberty team which had averaged 33 points in its past five games against the Tigers.

Flames quarterback Robbie Justino burned Towson State for a career-high 455 yards last year, and he led Liberty to 177 yards total offense in the first quarter. Liberty gained just 154 yards over the last three quarters, however, punting nine times.

"That's the best our defense has played since the beginning of last season [when it allowed 23 points in its first two games, both losses]," Combs said. "The defense wasn't able to sustain that [in 1991] because it lost four starters to injury, and what's really helping this time is that we're continually rotating our line."

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