With a potential playoff as the payoff, the Towson football team fizzled out yesterday.
All the pre-game signs were ominous for the Tigers. They were playing at home, where they hadn't won an Atlantic 10 game all season. They were playing No. 7 James Madison, a team that figured to come in snarling after being upset by a point at Villanova the previous Saturday.
And they were in a position where they couldn't afford to make costly turnovers.
The omens proved prophetic. James Madison capitalized on the Tigers' lost fumbles for three touchdowns, stopped Towson's running game in its tracks and harassed quarterback Sean Schaefer incessantly to romp, 38-3, before 4,533 at Johnny Unitas Stadium.
Schaefer did not throw a touchdown pass for the first time in his two-year career, and the Tigers' ground game produced 12 yards on 15 carries. On offense, James Madison (9-2, 7-1) punished Towson with its rushing in the first half, then opened up somewhat for 163 passing yards and two scores in the second half.
"It was the wrong week to play us," Dukes coach Mickey Matthews said. "We had our best practices and we were ready to go."
Towson (7-4, 4-4) hung in contention for most of the first two quarters until a three-minute sequence spelled the beginning of the end.
Down 10-3, the Tigers were marching toward a tying touchdown when Schaefer lateraled to Marcus Lee, who passed into the end zone for Paul Perry. The ball was a tad long, flicking off Perry's fingertips, and the drive stalled at the James Madison 25.
After holding the Dukes, the ensuing punt bounced precariously near a Towson player. Returner Eric Yancey then tried to field the ball but only got one hand on it and Adam Ford recovered for James Madison at the Towson 36.
"I wasn't sure whether it hit him or not," Yancey said. "It wasn't one of my better decisions."
In four plays, the Dukes were in the end zone, mostly on the rushing of Eugene Holloman (24 carries for 131 yards), who ran in from the 4 for a 17-3 lead at halftime.
James Madison quickly made it a rout after the break, scoring on 71- and 68-yard drives on its first two possessions, the second coming after Schaefer was stripped of the ball and Justin Barnes (Oakland Mills) made his second recovery of the game.
"We didn't take advantage of some opportunities early, and against a quality team like this, you can't turn it over," Tigers coach Gordy Combs said.
James Madison has captured six of the past seven meetings with Towson and is on its way to the NCAA Division I-AA tournament. Denied their first eight-win season since 1994, the Tigers will stay home.
For Towson, there was progress to savor. Two seasons before, the program was 0-8 in the league.
"That is a huge turnaround," Combs said.
James Madison 10 7 14 7-38
Towson 0 3 0 0- 3
First quarter JMU-Baker 23 pass from Rascati (Rabil kick), 12:08. JMU-FG Rabil 38, 1:35.
Second quarter Tow-FG Bencivengo 33, 9:43. JMU-Holloman 4 run (Rabil kick), :50.
Third quarter JMU-Rascati 1 run (Rabil kick), 9:23. JMU-Baker 21 pass from Rascati (Rabil kick), 2:43.
Fourth quarter JMU-McCarter 58 pass from Rascati (Rabil kick), 13:42. A-4,533.
First downs 22 12
Rushes-yards 51-244 15-12
Passing 192 194
Comp-Att-Int 10-13-0 22-35-1
Return Yards 15 1
Punts-Avg. 4-29.3 4-39.5
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 3-3
Penalties-Yards 6-37 2-10
Time of Possession 35:52 24:08 Rushing-James Madison, Holloman 24-131, Landers 5-45, Rascati 9-23, Bolton 3-22, Banks 5-16, Fenner 5-7. Towson, N.Williams 7-13, Castor 2-4, Schaefer 6-(minus 5). Passing-James Madison, Rascati 9-12-0-186, Landers 1-1-0-6. Towson, Schaefer 22-34-1-194, M.Lee 0-1-0-0. Receiving-James Madison, Baker 3-78, Bransford 3-29, McCarter 1-58, Bolton 1-15, Boxley 1-6, Ra.Brown 1-6. Towson, Yancey 7-72, M.Lee 6-41, Brown 4-51, Harrison 3-22, Perry 1-5, Arnold 1-3.