Towson University reached its comfort zone in the second half last night and christened its renovated stadium with a 49-28 opening-game victory over local rival Morgan State.
A Towson-record crowd of 8,517 watched the Tigers dominate the third quarter with two bruising touchdown drives and a goal-line stand that handed the Bears their second consecutive defeat.
Mikal Lundy's third touchdown - on a 2-yard run - less than a minute into the fourth quarter climaxed the telltale segment of the game after two big plays by linebacker Steve Hessler had kept Morgan out of the end zone and two touchdowns down.
The win was the Tigers' 12th in the past 13 meetings with Morgan in their longest active rivalry. Towson leads the overall series 12-4.
"We made some adjustments, and in the second half I felt we could move the football by running it," Towson coach Gordy Combs said. "We found the things they were doing after the first couple series. We made some blunders the first half and gave up some big plays.
"But I think we scored more points in this game than we did in the first three or four last year [45 in the first four]."
Towson quarterback Jay Amer passed for 220 yards and two touchdowns. He agreed that it took awhile to get rolling.
"We kind of waited to see what they were going to give us," Amer said. "We weren't sure what they were going to do. Then the line took over and kicked them off the ball."
Still not home early in the fourth quarter after the Bears struck on a 41-yard touchdown pass from Bradshaw Littlejohn to Vishante Shiancoe, Towson sealed the victory a little more than a minute later.
A perfectly thrown pass from Amer to James Byroads turned into a 70-yard scoring play for the Tigers, raising their lead to three touchdowns.
The Tigers have not dropped a home opener since 1991.
Morgan was undermined by penalties and turnovers in its opening loss, 28-24, to Gardner-Webb five days earlier and, to a lesser degree, in this game. The stress of two games so close together may have taken its toll on the Bears' defense, which appeared to tire in the second half.
"They found our weakness on the back side [of the defense]," said Morgan coach Donald Hill-Eley. "They did a good job of exploiting it. Towson has a real good program, and we're playing a new defensive scheme. It's a matter of getting the confidence level up."
The Bears' offense sputtered somewhat, producing 164 fewer yards than in the opener, but they remained close on the strength of long kickoff returns by William Sherman and William DeShazo that set up their first two scores.
However, Towson kept pounding away, capitalizing on a botched snap on a Morgan punt that Allan Harrison picked up and returned for a TD, then took over in the third quarter with its depth at running back.
"It was a great opening game," said Lundy, a transfer from Kent State who ran for 94 yards and caught four passes for 83 more.
Morgan State 14 7 0 7 - 28
Towson 7 21 7 14 - 49
First quarter M-Littlejohn 18 run (kick failed), 1:37 T-Lundy 4 run (Whitacre kick), 13:19 M-Stallings 4 run (Vishan pass from Littlejohn), 14:18 Second quarter T-Romeo 2 run (Whitacre kick), 5:04 T-Harrison 30 fumble recovery (Whitacre kick), 8:13 T-White 33 run (Whitacre kick), 13:27 M-Stallings 3 run (Voroshilin kick), 14:31 Third quarter T-Lundy 34 pass from Amer (Whitacre kick), 3:38 Fourth quarter T-Lundy 2 run (Whitacre kick), 0:51 M-Shiancoe 41 pass from Littlejohn (Voroshilin kick), 3:24 T-Byroads 70 pass from Amer (Whitacre kick), 4:34 A-8,517.
First downs 11 24
Rushes-yards 37-66 53-274
Passing 236 220
Comp-Att-Int 16-11-0 18-11-0
Return Yards 215 152
Punts-Avg. 4-38.5 2-43.0
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 9-78 8-63
Time of Possession 27:14 32:46
Rushing-Morgan, Stallings 10-35, Littlejohn 18-27, Walters 6-17, DeShazo 2-2, Voroshilin 1-(minus 15). Towson, Lundy 21-94, Romeo 11-64, Lewis 5-42, Harris 9-38, White 1-33, Amer 4-4, Team 2-(minus 1). Passing-Morgan, Littlejohn 11-16-0-236. Towson, Amer 11-18-0-220. Receiving-Morgan, Shiancoe 5-115, Stallings 3-34, Sherman 2-32, Dickens 1-55. Towson, Lundy 4-83, Byroads 2-85, White 2-24, Romeo 2-6, Galloway 1-22.
Next for Morgan
Opponent: Florida A&M;
Site: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati
When: Sept. 14, 1:30 p.m.
Last game: Lost to No. 1 Miami, 63-17, on Saturday.
Next for Towson
Site: Fisher Field, Easton, Pa.
When: Sept. 14, 1 p.m.
Opener: Lafayette plays host to Monmouth tomorrow.