The Towson football team has thrived off fast starts this season. But the Tigers demonstrated Saturday that they can find another gear late.
Trailing at halftime for only the second time this fall, No. 17 Towson scored three touchdowns in the second half to thwart visiting William & Mary’s upset bid and secure a 29-13 win before an announced 8,022 at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson.
The Tigers improved to 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association, where they remained tied with No. 21 Maine (4-2, 3-0) for first place. The Black Bears upended No. 16 Rhode Island, 38-36, and No. 5 Elon dropped from the top spot after falling, 28-16, at Delaware.
Redshirt junior quarterback Tom Flacco, the brother of Ravens quarterback Joe, led the Tigers with 188 passing yards and 109 rushing yards. He passed for one touchdown. Redshirt junior linebacker Robert Heyward paced Towson with 13 tackles while redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Bryce Carter made two sacks.
Towson’s winning streak appeared to be in jeopardy after the first two quarters when the Tribe (2-4, 1-2) took a 13-10 lead into halftime. The Tigers’ previous halftime deficit came Sept. 8 when they trailed Wake Forest, 38-20, en route to a 51-20 loss — their lone setback of the season.
But coach Rob Ambrose said he was confident the team would rally in the final two quarters.
“My only concern would have been if our team decided not show up in the second half, and we did,” he said. “It’s who we are and who we worked to be and who we said we want to be. We just decided to be more of that in the second half, and it showed. No, it wasn’t a concern at all.”
One week after returning the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown in a 52-28 victory over then-No. 13 Stony Brook, redshirt junior Shane Simpson returned a punt 28 yards to set up the offense at William & Mary’s 42-yard line early in the third quarter. Six plays later, Simpson rushed 9 yards off left tackle into the end zone. The extra point gave Towson a 17-13 lead.
After a three-and-out by the Tribe, the Tigers went for it on fourth-and-2 at William & Mary’s 15, but junior running back Yeedee Thaenrat’s carry ended 1 yard short. After another Tribe punt, Towson went 75 yards in nine plays and capped the drive on a 5-yard lob from Flacco to sophomore wide receiver Jabari Allen in the back right corner of the end zone.
An official review confirmed the on-field ruling, and the Tigers owned a 23-13 advantage after a blocked extra point.
“I just went up and made a play,” said Allen, who caught three passes for 22 yards. “I just knew I had it. I knew I was inbounds. It wasn’t much thinking. I just caught it, and I knew I was in.”
Towson then put the game out of reach on Thaenrat’s 53-yard rumble up the middle for a 29-13 lead.
Flacco, who completed 17 of 26 passes, said the team’s effort in the second half affirmed what he had learned about his teammates.
“We respond well to adversity,” he said. “We were down 14-0 at Villanova, and the guys, they just kind of shake it off. That’s what our team is. As an offense, you need to have a quiet confidence, just a quiet confidence in yourself and your unit, and that’s what we have right now. That’s something we take pride in as an offense and as a defense and as a team.”
The Tigers opened the game with a slight hiccup when junior kicker Aidan O’Neill hooked a field-goal attempt from 38 yards wide left with 7:55 remaining in the first quarter. But after the defense forced a three-and-out by William & Mary, the offense needed only five plays to march 52 yards and score on a 2-yard run by sophomore running back Kobe Young with 4:07 left in the quarter.
That marked the third consecutive game in which Towson scored the first touchdown.
After another three-and-out by the Tribe, the Tigers extended their lead to 10-0 when O’Neill converted a 46-yard field goal — his longest of the season — just five seconds into the second quarter.
Towson sent out O’Neill again later in the quarter to try to pad its cushion to 13, but his try from 42 yards was blocked by junior defensive tackle Bill Murray. William & Mary’s Arman Jones caught the ball, and the junior linebacker raced 71 yards down the right sideline to give his team its first touchdown, cutting the Tigers’ lead to 10-6.
The Tribe defense then forced Towson to punt, and the offense responded by driving 75 yards on 15 plays in 3:45 and getting a 1-yard touchdown run from junior running back Albert Funderburke with 20 seconds left before halftime. A successful extra point gave William & Mary a 13-10 lead and the Tigers their second halftime deficit of the season.
Notes: In addition to O’Neill’s blocked field-goal attempt in the second quarter, his extra-point try after Allen’s touchdown catch in the fourth was blocked. Ambrose, who elected to attempt a two-point conversion after Thaenrat’s touchdown, criticized the kicking unit. “I had already seen enough of the extra-point field-goal unit for one day,” he said. “I don’t need to see them anymore. That’s the worst display of extra-point field-goal unit play in the 10 years since I’ve been here, and that’s getting fixed.” … Simpson has scored one touchdown in each of Towson’s six games this season. … With 12 tackles, senior middle linebacker Diondre Wallace (Arundel) is seven stops shy of moving into the school’s top 10 in that department. He would tie Randy Bielski, who had 263 tackles from 1976-79. … The defense sacked William & Mary quarterbacks five times and broke up six passes. … Towson improved to 6-2 in the past eight meetings with William & Mary. The program is 6-3 against the Tribe under Ambrose.