Coach Rob Ambrose’s confidence in his Towson football team was not misplaced.
Despite a 38-17 loss to James Madison on Saturday in the regular-season finale for both teams, the Tigers on Sunday earned one of 14 at-large bids to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. They will host Northeast Conference champion Duquesne on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson.
“Validation for our kids,” Ambrose said in a video distributed by the team. “This is the hardest-working group since 2011. They have done a little bit of it on blind faith. To see them be rewarded for the work they have put in, these are great teaching lessons as men for the rest of their lives."
Senior linebacker Diondre Wallace, a Baltimore resident and Arundel graduate, became emotional discussing the team’s entry to the postseason.
“It means the world. It’s been a long time coming. These guys, we deserve this,” he said before pausing to collect himself. “I don’t even know what to say. I’m just excited to keep going.”
Redshirt junior quarterback Tom Flacco said he was pleased the team will get at least one more week together.
“It just means that we’re still alive,” he said. “At this point, it’s exciting because the regular season is over and we’re starting anew. I think that’s a good thing for us. We’re home, which is nice, but getting to the playoffs is something that I saw happening in the summer and it’s a goal our whole team has.”
The Tigers — who slipped to No. 16 in the final STATS FCS poll — will make their third postseason appearance and first since the 2013 squad advanced to the FCS title game before losing, 35-7, to North Dakota State. They were one of six teams from the Colonial Athletic Association, which became the first conference to send six representatives to the playoffs.
After the setback to the Dukes, Ambrose publicly petitioned the selection committee to reward the CAA for what is considered the strongest league at the FCS level.
“If they let us play football for one more game — and it’s not us, it’s JMU, I don’t care who it is, it’s Stony [Brook], it’s Delaware, it’s me, it’s all of us — let us in the playoffs,” he said.
“We all love each other. We all fight each other. We’re all like brothers in this league, all of us, big brothers who will beat the hell out of each other and then we’ll hug each other up. Just let us out of the cage so that we can go to the playoffs and play other people and let them find out what the crucible of our league is like. That’s awesome, and that’s the difference. We’ve been tested time and time again. The hottest fire makes the toughest steel. We played great teams in this league and found a way to beat them. We played great teams in this league and found a way to lose close games. I want to go play somebody else outside this league and let them see what this league is made out of.”
Towson (7-4) opened the season with six wins in seven games, but ended the regular season with three losses in four games. Still, the Tigers finished the year ranked 13th in the country in scoring at 36.7 points per game and 14th in total offense at 474.8 yards per game.
Towson will meet Duquesne (8-3), which won its last five games en route to the Northeast title. The Dukes rank 33rd in the nation in scoring at 31.2 points per game and are tied for 63rd in total offense at 379.5 yards per game.
The winner of Saturday’s game will travel to No. 5 seed South Dakota State for a second-round game Dec. 1. That game is scheduled to kick off at 3 p.m.