STORRS, Conn. -- Towson State was looking for respect and credibility yesterday. It got both, thanks to senior tailback Tony Vinson.
Vinson, a starter at Purdue two years ago, rushed 36 times for 196 yards and all four of his team's touchdowns as the undefeated Tigers edged the University of Connecticut, 28-27, for their fourth victory of the season.
UConn (3-2) rallied for a touchdown with three seconds left and then botched a pass for two points. Huskies quarterback Zeke Rodgers hit flanker Brian Reid in the chest a yard deep in the end zone on the two-point conversion attempt, but Reid dropped the ball. The misplay was moot, however, because the Huskies were called for illegal motion on the play.
The Huskies didn't lose the game on a misplayed conversion, however. They lost it because they couldn't stop the 6-foot-2, 227-pound Vinson.
"This is the biggest win we've had because it came against a real quality program," Vinson said. "The offensive line was making great blocks and things were working all day. We came here looking for a little respect."
UConn coach Tom Jackson was certainly impressed by Vinson.
"[Vinson] is legit and their offensive line did a real good job," Jackson said. "But we just didn't tackle, plain and simple. We were terrible against the run, and [Vinson] had a lot to do with it."
The Tigers rushed 64 times for 290 yards while UConn had 35 carries for 130 yards. The Huskies knew who would be carrying the ball most of the day and where Vinson would run -- and they still couldn't stop him.
Vinson, who carried 13 times for 95 yards in the first quarter, got Towson State even at 7-7 with a 5-yard run in the first and scored again in the second on a 3-yard run as the Tigers took a 14-13 lead at halftime.
UConn tailback Ed Long gave the Huskies a 21-14 lead early in the fourth quarter on a 10-yard run and a two-point conversion, but it was all Vinson over the next 12 minutes.
Vinson scored from the 1 with 9:52 left to tie the game and again from the 1, with 2:34 left, as the Tigers took a 28-21 lead. The final touchdown came on fourth down.
"I never thought of a field goal then," Towson State coach Gordy Combs said. "Not when I have an All-American tackle like Karl Nieberlein and a back like Vinson. It was only half a yard and I felt we could move the ball all day. Besides, if we didn't get in they would have to go 99 yards."
UConn came back. Rodgers, out of timeouts, got the Huskies to the Tigers' 21 with 16 seconds left on a fourth-down pass to tight end Tom Bachonski. Two plays later he lofted a 21-yard scoring pass to split end Monte Nowden to cut it to 28-27.
"It was a non-league game. Why not go for the two?" Jackson said.
The Tigers even moved the ball with Vinson on the bench. Backup tailback Brian McCarty rushed 22 times for 84 yards, and quarterback Dan Crowley, who came into the game as the top Division I-AA passer in the country with an efficiency rating of 224.9, completed seven of 15 passes for 94 yards. He also suffered his first interception of the season.
Nobody could stop Vinson, who has drawn the attention of a half dozen NFL scouts this season.
"[Vinson] makes us a better football team," Combs said. "He makes the offensive line better, the whole team better and even the coaches better. There is no denying that -- it's a fact."
Towson State 7 7 0 14 -- 28
Connecticut 7 6 0 14 -- 27
NEXT FOR TOWSON:
When: Oct. 16, at Minnegan Stadium
Yesterday: Beat Florida A&M;, 32-13, as quarterback Jay Walker was 24 for 35 for 363 yards and two touchdowns.