Heavy overnight rains had reduced the playing surface to a quagmire, making the footing unsure and leaving the offenses at a disadvantage.
So, yesterday's Towson State-Bucknell game figured to swing on breaks, big defensive plays and special-teams performance, and that's exactly what developed.
The Bison cashed in on a huge turnaround before halftime, a controversial officials' noncall, and a 45-yard kickoff return to end the Tigers' three-game winning streak, 14-7, at Minnegan Stadium.
The defeat also halted a seven-game home winning streak by Towson (4-3), which mounted the day's only sustained scoring drive, a 13-play, 80-yard trek that culminated with fullback Bill Hughes' 17-yard touchdown dash.
But in the final analysis, it was a second sustained Tigers march that climaxed in disaster that separated these two teams, who will be Patriot League rivals when Towson joins the conference in football for 1997.
After a first half that was almost exclusively a punting duel, the Tigers drove from their 25 into field-goal range.
George Perdikakas lined up to try for a 3-0 lead from the Bucknell 28, but the snap skittered back low to freshman Ryan Waltz, who tried to make a play rather than falling on the ball.
Bucknell's George Howanitz recovered the loose ball, briefly ran with it, then lateraled to Terence Parham, who raced to the end zone to complete a 62-yard play.
Towson coach Gordy Combs said the touchdown should have been called back because the ball was lateraled forward. He argued to no avail.
"No doubt it was a forward lateral," said Combs. "Six officials couldn't see that ball? They were out of position and nobody wanted to make the call. It's sad that an officiating crew didn't have total concentration."
Bucknell coach Tom Gadd replied: "From where I stood, it looked like a lateral. From where he [Combs] stood, it looked like a forward lateral."
Gadd thought the field goal wasn't a given -- his kicker had missed a 29-yard attempt after the team's first possession -- but, barring the turnover, the worst Towson could have had at intermission was a scoreless tie.
It was a damaging blow for the young Tigers, who hadn't recovered for the second-half kickoff. Oji Perkins returned it from the Bucknell 16 to the Towson 39, setting up a three-play drive that gave the Bison a 14-0 lead.
Tailback Rich Lemon -- who didn't start after missing a practice last week -- swept in from the 12 for the touchdown.
After awakening and scoring with 5:31 left in the third quarter, Towson had a golden opportunity to tie when Brad Friedman blocked a Bucknell punt on the second play of the fourth quarter, the ball rolling out of bounds at the Bison 17.
"We felt like momentum was starting to change then," said Friedman. "We were feeling like we could pull it off."
But two runs by Larry Washington netted 1 yard, freshman Kevin Smith was called for intentional grounding on third down and Bucknell's Rob Bird sacked Smith for an 8-yard loss on the final play.
Towson never threatened again, Combs electing to punt on fourth-and-one from the Tigers' 47 midway through the fourth quarter.
It marked the second straight season that the Bison (4-3) had capitalized on special-teams effectiveness to beat Towson, a 41-28 victim in Lewisburg, Pa., in 1994. Bucknell scored on a blocked punt and recovered two fumbled kickoffs to set up other touchdowns.
"The field was so treacherous and the footing so bad that I thought both teams did a good job of not turning the ball over," said Gadd. "It was like playing in soup. I thought it would dry up after the sun came out, but it got slicker."
Combs said his team still had a lot of time after the Bucknell touchdown on the blocked field goal.
"Such a mistake is just magnified in a close game against a quality opponent," he said. "There were still 30 minutes to play, but on a field like that, that [noncall] took a lot of the wind out of our sails."
Next for Towson
Opponent: Robert Morris
Site: Minnegan Stadium
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
Yesterday: Lost to Mercyhurst, 21-19.