The Towson University football team did not have a bye week, but Saturday was just as easy and enjoyable.
The Tigers scored the first 28 points, punched in touchdowns on seven of their nine first-half possessions and were barely troubled in their 56-7 thrashing of visiting Bucknell before an announced 6,114 at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson.
How unproblematic was the game for Towson? The defense gave up only 18 yards in the first quarter, and the Bison crossed midfield only after the Tigers had bludgeoned their way to a 28-0 advantage.
Redshirt senior quarterback Tom Flacco completed 16 of 22 passes for 203 yards and threw six touchdown passes in the first half, breaking the school’s previous single-game record shared by three others. Five of those passes were caught by redshirt senior wide receiver Shane Leatherbury, who tied a single-game mark set by Andrae Brown in a 56-41 loss at Northeastern on Sept. 24, 2005.
And the starting and backup running backs both set career highs in rushing yards. First, senior Yeedee Thaenrat gained 105 yards on seven carries in the first half en route to 112 yards on eight attempts. Then redshirt sophomore Adrian Feliz-Platt added 101 yards on 14 carries.
Coach Rob Ambrose said that it is “somewhat uncommon” to play against a nonconference opponent in the middle of his team’s Colonial Athletic Association schedule, but said the players can’t worry about the names of their opponents.
“It’s really not about them,” he said. “It’s not, and I think our guys are really starting to understand that. It’s not about who shows up and plays on the field. Whether they’re in our conference or not, it’s about what we do and how we do it or we don’t.”
The Tigers, who have lost their last two CAA games after upending Maine on Sept. 14, can expect a much stiffer test next Saturday at conference rival James Madison, which is ranked No. 2 and owns a 7-1 overall record and a 4-0 mark in the CAA.
“It’s going to be a hard game,” said Leatherbury, who caught six passes for 84 yards. “Everybody knows what they’re capable of, but we also know what we’re capable of. We’re not really worried about who they are. Today shows we don’t care who we play against. We’ve just got to play hard. Our opponent doesn’t matter at this point. It’s just you versus you, and you’ve just got to be the best you can be.”
The Tigers essentially put the game out of reach in the first half, rolling up a 42-7 advantage at halftime. They scored on their first possession of the game, marching 68 yards on nine plays and capping the drive with Flacco finding redshirt senior tight end Chris Clark wide open in the middle of the end zone with 11 minutes left in the first quarter.
The Bison forced Towson to punt on its next series, but then the floodgates opened. Flacco hit Leatherbury on a 16-yard crossing route to the front of the end zone with 1:24 left in the opening frame.
Redshirt junior defensive end Bryce Carter sacked and stripped Bucknell junior quarterback Logan Bitikofer, and redshirt senior outside linebacker Malik Tyne pounced on the loose ball at the Bison’s 20-yard line. Two plays later, Flacco spotted Leatherbury wide open in the left flat for an 8-yard score with 44 seconds remaining.
The Tigers’ next possession was aided by a 44-yard run by Thaenrat to get over the 100-yard mark, and Flacco connected with Leatherbury in the back right corner of the end zone on a 7-yard lob with 12:51 left in the second quarter.
After Bucknell sophomore running back Jared Cooper scored on a 3-yard run to trim the deficit to 28-7 with 8:25 remaining, redshirt sophomore Adrian Feliz-Platt galloped 45 yards to set up a Flacco-to-Leatherbury 2-yard score with 5:44 left. On Towson’s next series, Flacco threw a seam pass over the middle to Leatherbury, who outraced a few defenders to the end zone to complete a 45-yard touchdown.
“I didn’t even know that until now,” Flacco said of his single-game record, “but I would say, imagine if I had played in the second half? I think both of us would have had a pretty fun second half, but I understand what happened. It was done in the first half, which is pretty cool. I’ll take pride in that. But it doesn’t really matter. Like Coach said, we’ve just got to focus on the next game at this point.”
About the only miscue in the first half for the Tigers occurred on their final play when senior kicker Aidan O’Neill set up to attempt a 55-yard field goal. But the field-goal unit was flagged for a delay of game. O’Neill’s 60-yard try — which would have eclipsed Sean Landeta’s program-record 57-yard field goal in 1980 — clanked off the crossbar, and redshirt sophomore Shane McDonough got an earful from coach Rob Ambrose as the former walked off the field toward the locker room.
Towson opened the third quarter with sophomore D’Ago Hunter returning the kickoff 92 yards for the touchdown and a 49-7 advantage. The score was the school’s 13th kick return for a touchdown.
Flacco was under center for the offense’s first possession of the second half, but was replaced for the remainder of the game by redshirt junior Ryan Stover. The understudy engineered a 13-play, 91-yard drive capped by redshirt junior running back Aaron Speight’s 1-yard rumble into the end zone with 20 seconds left in the third quarter.
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Radio: 1300 AM