NEWARK, DEL. — NEWARK, Del. -- Three weeks ago, Towson State suffered a crushing defeat by losing to Howard University on the game's final play. Yesterday against 14th-ranked Delaware, the Tigers turned the tables.
With 10 seconds left in the game, senior running back Tony Vinson capped another brilliant afternoon by scoring from a yard out on fourth-and-goal to lift the Tigers to a 32-30 victory over the Blue Hens before 20,709 at Delaware Stadium.
The victory, Towson State's first over Delaware in 10 years and first against a ranked Division I-AA team, guaranteed the Tigers (6-2) a winning season for the first time since 1986 and kept their flickering playoff hopes alive. It also virtually eliminated Delaware's (6-3) chances for a return trip to the postseason.
"The big thing is that we beat a quality program. Our kids came back from playing terribly last week [in a 40-12 loss at Hofstra]," Towson State coach Gordy Combs said. "We're back in the [playoff] picture, no doubt in my mind. I think we'd be very attractive in the I-AA playoffs. We deserve some recognition."
The Tigers earned their prize yesterday behind a familiar cast, beginning with the remarkable Vinson. He rushed 31 times for 136 yards and four touchdowns, the eighth consecutive time he has rushed for at least 100 yards and the second time he has rushed for four scores this year.
He did most of his damage after uncharacteristically losing two fumbles in the first half, helping Delaware take a 10-0 lead. Coming into yesterday's game, Vinson had lost one fumble in 197 attempts this season.
Vinson, who entered the game with 1,189 yards rushing, second in Division I-AA, responded by scoring three touchdowns to give the Tigers a 26-17 lead late in the third quarter. But after the Blue Hens rallied to score two touchdowns -- the last one on a 46-yard touchdown pass from Keith Langan to Keita Malloy -- and take a 30-26 lead with 2:22 left in the game, things didn't look good for the Tigers.
"Everybody just said: 'That's it. It's our turn. No excuses now. We control what happens.' We knew we could score," Vinson said.
Vinson and two other familiar Towson State heroes, quarterback Dan Crowley and wide receiver Mark Orlando, went to work.
The Tigers started their game-winning drive with some help from Delaware. After Malloy's score, the Blue Hens were penalized for celebrating excessively on the field, and that helped Towson begin on its 40.
Crowley, who completed 18 of 30 passes for 228 yards and a touchdown, scrambled for five yards, then hit Orlando for a pair of 10-yard sideline completions against Delaware's prevent defense. Vinson then ran 14 yards to the Delaware 22. After two incompletions, Vinson produced the game's critical moment, a draw play up the middle that netted 14 yards and gave the Tigers a first-and-goal on the Blue Hens' 5.
Two Vinson runs and two Towson State timeouts later, the Tigers were down to their last play inside the 1. And with both teams and 20,709 people sure who would carry the ball, Vinson ran up the middle and over the goal line.
It was the fifth time in six attempts that the Tigers succeeded on fourth down.
"When you play a team like Delaware in this kind of environment, this is real college football," said Orlando, who gave the fans a treat with a 10-catch, 160-yard, one-touchdown performance. "You want to prove to people at the highest level that you can play with them and that you're better than them."
Delaware coach Tubby Raymond gave the Tigers a smattering of credit, but his post-game comments revolved mostly around the excessive celebration penalty that cost the Blue Hens precious field position, and in Raymond's eyes, the game.
"Our defense wasn't good enough to stop them, but what cost us the game was that penalty," Raymond said. "This is the first time in 28 years of coaching that I've criticized officials in public. I can't imagine why the officials called it, especially after Towson had done the same thing twice without getting called for it."
The Blue Hens defense, average at best this year, also cost them dearly. They forced only one punt, and Towson State rolled up 477 yards, overcoming three missed extra points by Buddy Dunn.
Towson State 0 13 13 6 -- 32
Delaware 10 0 7 13 -- 30
NEXT FOR TOWSON: BUCKNELL
When: Saturday, at Minnegan Stadium
Yesterday: Beat Lehigh, 32-27, behind Rob Glus' three touchdown passes.