Lehigh running back Ronald Jean, who finished with 165 yards on 32 carries, made about three Tigers defenders look sick and leaned heavily to his left at the end of a 26-yard, game-winning touch-down with 2:29 remaining.
"It's a loss," Towson quarter-back Joe Lee said, throwing a cloud onto the lining of his school and league-record 567 passing yards and three touchdown passes. Entering both books for 47 completions and 76 attempts couldn't have mattered less. This was a big game. If we win and if Colgate goes and beats Lehigh, we "win the Patriot League."
Distractions from this fact abounded. After throwing for 367 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Brett Snyder, Lehigh quarterback Phil Stambaugh took a knee and let the clock expire, sealing the 20th straight regular-season win "for the Engineers (8-0, 3-0), ranked No. 7 in Division I-AA.
After the game, those at Goodman Stadium entered the field as "calmly as art lovers visiting the Walters. With the changing leaves of South Mountain as a backdrop, Boy Scouts scurried about, throwing miniature footballs back and "forth on a perfect 70-degree day. The 2,000 or so who presumably ') supported the Tigers (6-3, 4-1) of.fered pats on the back and handshakes, something closer to congratulations than consolation.
In this atmosphere, one could revel in Towson's 641 yards of total '"offense, an admirable job by the "defense against the nation's fourth-best offense and a lead with 5:02 left to go in the game -- after a 10-yard touchdown catch by Jason Corle. But that depends on who you ask.
Cornerback Jabari Garrett sat motionless on the ground for a few minutes after the game, while strong safety Dave Monokian flung in disgust anything he could find -- helmet, tape, pads -- to-ward the north end zone.
"I'm sure there will be positives," Towson coach Gordy Combs said. "Right now I can't think of any."
On one hand, the Tigers' per-formance is a marked improvement from last year's 55-7 debacle on this very field. Before the sea-son, Combs looked to this game as an indicator of how far the pro-gram had advanced since entering the Patriot League in 1997. The answer is encouraging.
"We're not last, so that's a plus," Towson linebacker Rusty McKinney said, noting his team's preseason placement. "But that's not much for us anymore."
The problem is that the team let slip a chance of winning a league title that might not return to them until 2000. Lee was quick to point out his miscalculation on a quick-hit pass play that led to a 32-yard interception return and touchdown by linebacker Brendan Moore to give Lehigh a 31-24 lead with 5:26 left in the third quarter. There was also the mat-ter of Snyder's touchdowns, one a 63-yard product of poor tackling, the other a 30-yard result of blown coverage that gave Lehigh a 37-33 lead with 9:32 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Until the interception return, the Tigers had overcome a 24-14 halftime deficit with a touchdown and field goal by Corle and Ed Kulic, respectively. They'd run up 321 yards of total offense in the first half, including 301 passing yards from Lee.
The Tigers regained the lead early in the fourth quarter, with a Kulic field goal followed by a 13-yard pass from Lee to Mattera, making it 33-31 at the 13:13 mark.
After Snyder's catch, Towson marched 85 yards for its final score of the game, Corle's second touch-down. But Lehigh, which seemed to ignore Jean during the second and third quarters, fed him the ball 15 times for nearly 100 yards in the final stanza.
"Ronald Jean just ran us down at the end." Combs said. "He made some nice plays and made us miss tackles."
Just the same, the facts run down any reverie in the end, as Lee demonstrates when presented with the data from his record-setting day, with four receivers gar-nering 100-yard days.
"That's ... whatever," Lee said. "The main thing is that we didn't win. That's the main goal. No one cares about stats."
Next for Towson
Site: Minnegan Stadium, When: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
Yesterday: Beat Valparaiso,34-10