From Jason Corle fumbling 19 seconds into the game to Kevin Smith running backward into his team's territory in a failed attempt to run out the clock at the end of the game, the Towson offense seemed to be in self-destruct mode yesterday.
Fortunately for the Tigers, the defense functioned impeccably in clean-up mode, and Towson held on for a 27-21 win over St. Mary's, Calif., before 2,009 at Minnegan Stadium.
Towson (4-4), which rallied from a 21-0 deficit, took its first lead on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Jamal White with 9: 26 left in the game. It seemed to have the game wrapped up with 1: 03 left after Dannie Ross and Eric Erhardt sacked St. Mary's Joe Lilley on a fourth-down play.
But on fourth-and-16 from the St. Mary's 43, Smith kept running backward in an attempt to eliminate the final nine seconds, losing 30 yards in the process before falling at the Towson 27 with one second left and giving the Gaels the ball.
Smith was saved from further embarrassment, however, when Lilley's pass intended for Bruce Rhode sailed into the arms of cornerback Rickey Crestwell just beyond the back corner of the end zone and out of bounds.
"The defense came through like that the whole game and just bailed me out," said Smith, who completed 31 of 42 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns.
Towson coach Gordy Combs was bailed out, as well.
"We didnt want to punt the ball and we didn't want to go for it," he said. "We just wanted to dissolve the clock."
St. Mary's (0-8) saw its 21-point lead dissolve as Towson's special teams emerged in the second half.
Fullback Kevyn Dodson took a short snap on a fake punt and ran 41 yards for a touchdown that put Towson within 21-19 with 4: 38 left in the third quarter.
Then, it was Jabari Garrett who blocked Lilley's punt attempt and recovered it at the St. Mary's 23. One play later, White and Smith connected on the go-ahead score.
St. Mary's could have built an even bigger cushion had it taken advantage of all of Towson's mistakes.
Three lost fumbles by Towson within the first seven minutes -- two by Corle and one by punter Mike Walck -- gave the Gaels an average field position at the Towson 27.
Still, the best they could do was to capitalize on the last of them, with Lilley's 5-yard touchdown run making the score 7-0 with 5: 42 left in the first quarter.
"Certainly, we had a lot of opportunities," St. Mary's coach Mike Rasmussen said.
St. Mary's offense was more efficient in the second quarter, scoring two touchdowns to take a 21-0 lead with 3: 37 left.
Towson, which ended a three-gane losing streak, responded with touchdowns on its last drive of the first half and opening drive of the second half. An eight-play, 72-yard drive ended with White's diving catch in the end zone from 15 yards out, making the score 21-7 1: 31 before halftime.
"We were lucky to be down 21-7. Our defense did a tremendous job," said Combs. "That touchdown we scored at the end of the first half, that was a big play. That gave us some confidence going into halftime."
Next for Towson
Site: Welcome Stadium, Dayton, Ohio
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
Pub Date: 11/01/98