With junior running back Terrance West and the Towson offense stealing most headlines, the Tigers' defense has been overlooked at times.
That's fine with senior middle linebacker Monte Gaddis, whose seventh-seeded team faces No. 3 seed Eastern Washington on Saturday in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision tournament semifinal.
"We just keep doing our thing," Gaddis said Monday morning during a conference call organized by the Colonial Athletic Association. "We just want to win the championship. That's all we want. We don't care about being overlooked or anything."
The defense may not be anchored by a superstar, but the unit has produced generally solid numbers this season. The defense is ranked in the top 25 nationally in total sacks (sixth at 41), rush defense (12th at 116.6 yards), red-zone defense (19th at 73.5 percent) and scoring (24th at 22.6 points).
The Tigers (12-2) held their own against No. 2 seed Eastern Illinois, which entered last Saturday's quarterfinal matchup with an offense that led the country in scoring (48.9 points per game) and yards (595.5) and had scored at least 34 points in every game this season.
The Panthers extended that streak to 14 games by scoring 39 points, but after scoring touchdowns on their first two drives, they ended their next five possessions with three punts, one fumble and one failed fourth-down conversion.
Eastern Illinois scored two touchdowns and one field goal on all three of its series in the third quarter, but Towson forced a punt and a fumble on the Panthers' first two drives of the fourth quarter to effectively put the game out of reach.
Tigers coach Rob Ambrose said he was impressed with the defense's performance against one of the most prolific offenses in the FCS, which amassed a season-low 511 yards.
"I think they led the country in every offensive category, and because it was so spectacular, I think they might have made three or four more categories up," he said Monday morning. "They were truly amazing. We didn't play perfectly defensively. We gave up a lot of yards, we gave up points, but at times, we played some of the best defensive football I've ever seen anybody play this year.
"We weren't going to stop them. We just weren't. But we needed to slow them down, and it was going to be a team thing. The defense needed to slow them down, and the offense was going to have to be really, really efficient and not turn the ball over. We were pretty close to that equation in getting it done. ... We're playing the best of the best of the best, and we're showing up on both sides of the ball and special teams more consistently, and that's truly the goal."
The task does not figure to get any easier for the defense against Eastern Washington, which ranks fourth in the nation in total offense (530.1 yards) and passing (346.6 yards) and sixth in scoring (40.1 points). But Gaddis said he fully expects the unit to play better after the effort against Eastern Illinois.
"We had a game plan going in," he said. "We didn't want any big plays to happen in the game, but as a defense, we didn't feel like we played to the top of our potential and our abilities. But I believe in the next game, we will play to our potential."