Tony Vinson thought he was back in the Big Ten.
His Towson State teammates also are learning to enjoy the pleasures of ball control, and together they ground out a 28-21 victory over visiting James Madison yesterday.
Easily surpassing the classic standard of 3 yards and a cloud of dust, Towson State (3-4) sent Vinson behind a wall of blockers, and the junior transfer from Purdue set three school records on a day when the Tigers averaged 5.5 yards a carry.
Vinson had 264 yards on 41 carries, both records, and for seven games he has 1,029, another best in the Tigers' 24-year history.
Sophomores Brian McCarty (74 yards) and John Swigart were the other beneficiaries of coach Gordy Combs' decision to run at a young James Madison (3-5) defense, as the Tigers carried a school-record 65 times.
Towson State finished with 360 yards rushing, and would have bettered the month-old school record of 361 had Combs not decided to end the Tigers' longest rivalry by running out the last minute after Towson State had moved inside the Dukes' 5-yard line one last time.
"I love this kind of football," Vinson said.
"Coach Combs came up and told me and the whole offense last week, that if we can run, we're going to run. The line was unbelievable. I had enough time to decide whether to go wide or cut back. It was a running back's dream."
Vinson had two short touchdown runs, the second a 1-yard dive with 13:33 left that put the Tigers on top by the final score.
The offensive show was complemented by a defense that gave up one touchdown in the final 42 minutes after surrendering touchdowns on James Madison's first two possessions.
"Our kids were not going to be denied," said Combs, the first-year coach.
"We emphasized cutting back on the kind of mistakes that killed us at William & Mary last week, and we did. That's the biggest win we've had here since the last time we beat James Madison [in 1988]. They've got the full complement of scholarships and staff."
It was the final planned meeting between the teams who have played every year but one since 1976.
James Madison is a year removed from a berth in the NCAA Division I-AA quarterfinals, while the Tigers are phasing out scholarships.
That 1988 victory over the Dukes that Combs referred to was Towson State's last previous homecoming win, and even the crowd added to the significance, as the 4,069 was the biggest gathering at Minnegan Stadium in three years.
The home fans were frowning early. In the span of two minutes, Towson State was guilty of a roughing the passer call, a rain shower moved in and the Dukes took a 7-0 lead on quarterback Eriq Williams' 1-run yard with 8:16 left in the first quarter.
Williams, an option ace, had averaged 119 yards rushing against the Tigers the last three years, and he got 30 of his 46 yards yesterday on the Dukes' first two drives. His 7-yard run put James Madison ahead 14-7 with 12:18 left in the second quarter.
Towson State didn't punt after its first possession, and the only time Vinson was stopped was when he went to the bench to replace a contact lens in the second quarter.
Following behind guards Greg Lohr, Andy Rehkemper and Alan Brown, tackles John Loch and Karl Kieberlein, center Mike Gunthrop and tight end Sean Patterson, the Tigers' four touchdown drives went 77, 68, 92 and 80 yards.
Only the first used more than two passes, as Dan Crowley threw just 12 times, completing seven. His 43-yard touchdown pass to Mark Orlando benefited from a good bounce, as the pass was deflected by intended receiver Kevin Howard on the 14-yard line. Orlando was behind, on the 8, and walked in untouched for a 14-14 tie with 1:20 left in the half.
The first half ended with the Tigers making another big play. The Dukes drove 62 yards to the Towson State 2, but sophomore defensive back Donnie Zimmerman knocked down Williams' pass to P.J. Caggiano in the end zone.
,.3l Swigart's 1-yard run completed the 92-yard, 13-play drive that put the Tigers on top 21-14 with 11:04 left in the third quarter. James Madison came back with a 64-yard drive that finished with Williams throwing 5 yards to John Allen for a 21-21 tie 7 minutes later.
Vinson capped the winning 80-yard drive 1:27 into the fourth quarter, and the Tigers continued to prosper through an exchange of turnovers two minutes later.
Howard fumbled a punt on his 17, the Dukes recovering, but Williams made a bad pitch two plays later. Russell Stoner recovered, and the Tigers moved 57 yards before Buddy Dunn's 42-yard field-goal attempt that was short.
The victory broke a three-game losing streak for the Tigers, and it was the third straight loss for James Madison, which was without injured tailback Kenny Sims.