Rob Ambrose has maintained throughout the preseason that Towson football team’s offense has two starting quarterbacks in Tom Flacco and Ryan Stover.
Flacco did his best to ensure that his head coach’s theory would not have to be put to the test. The redshirt junior threw a pair of touchdown passes, gained 27 yards on the ground and displayed a solid command of the offense to propel the visiting Tigers to a 36-10 victory over Morgan State in the season opener for both sides before an announced 9,209 at Hughes Stadium in Baltimore on Saturday night.
“It means everything that those coaches have the trust in me that they have,” said Flacco, who completed 18 of 28 passes for 245 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. “It means everything, it’s awesome, and Ryan’s going to continue doing what he’s been doing. He’s a great quarterback. So I’ve got to go out there and compete in practice every day and continue to come out and have games like this.”
The defense did its part as well, preventing the Bears from scoring a touchdown on offense and limiting that unit to 167 total yards and 13 first downs.
The spotlight though centered on Flacco. The transfer from Rutgers and the younger brother of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco got the nod to start under center over Stover, the redshirt sophomore and incumbent who had racked up 2,336 combined passing and rushing yards and 13 total touchdowns.
Ambrose said one factor in his decision to go with Flacco over Stover was Flacco’s experience after stints at Western Michigan and Rutgers. Flacco helped run a no-huddle offense that Ambrose said Towson had installed after last season.
“We started doing this in January, and he only got here in June,” Ambrose said. “Now he did pick it up in about 10 days. That’s how smart he is, but it’s a testament to him and his work ethic and his intelligence that he was able to pick up a concept that we started in January and he didn’t start until June.”
Said Flacco: “The offenses I’ve been doing have been no-huddle. So that wasn’t a big adjustment for me. I was just excited that Towson was new to that because I knew that we were going to be able to come out and surprise some teams. So we’ll see what we’re doing for the rest of the season and see what happens next week.”
Flacco found redshirt junior running back Shane Simpson and redshirt sophomore tight end Chris Clark for touchdown passes of 2 and 1 yards in the second and third quarters, respectively. He also hit redshirt junior Shane Leatherbury for a 2-point conversion after Simpson’s score and connected with Leatherbury for a 53-yard gain — the offense’s longest of the game — in the first quarter.
There were some struggles, especially on the Tigers’ first two offensive series. On fourth-and-1 at the Bears’ 44-yard line, Flacco was stuffed at the line of scrimmage by senior linebacker Damare’ Whitaker. And on third-and-goal at the 1, Flacco lost a yard on a keeper thanks to redshirt senior defensive tackle Ayodeji Agbelese and sophomore linebacker Lamont Hill.
“That’s like a good thing though,” Flacco said. “We have room for improvement. We came out here and got a 26-point win, but we’ve got to get better. We didn’t finish those drives, and there were a couple fourth downs that we didn’t get, and there were a couple things I came up short a little bit. So I need to get better, and as a team, we’ll get better.”
While the offense also got 66 rushing yards and one touchdown on seven attempts from sophomore running Kobe Young, the defense stymied Morgan State, allowing only one trip into the red zone and limiting the Bears offense to a field goal.
Towson redshirt junior defensive lineman Ricky DeBerry stripped junior running back Joshua Chase, and redshirt junior linebacker Robert Heyward recovered the fumble in the second quarter, and senior middle linebacker Diondre Wallace intercepted junior quarterback DeAndre Harris several minutes later.
“Our job every week is to make sure that we do our best and to make sure that our team doesn’t put any points,” said Wallace, a Baltimore resident and Arundel graduate who had five tackles and one sack. “But they’re a good team, and they’re coached very well, and they’re going to put a lot of points on the board. But I think we did a good job of sticking together, holding them together, and holding them down to as many points as we could tonight. So it was a good team win.”
Morgan State opened with the game’s first touchdown when Towson sophomore Coby Tippett mishandled a punt inside the 5-yard line, and freshman long snapper Zach Castano pounced on the loose ball in the end zone with 4:20 left in the first quarter. That ended a scoreless streak of 128:50 against the Tigers for the Bears, who had last scored with 13:10 left in the first quarter of a game on Sept. 3, 2011.
Notes: With four field goals, junior kicker Aidan O’Neill became Towson’s all-time leader in career field goals made with 35, passing the previous school record of 32 shared by Randy Bielski (1976-79) and Ed Kulic (1998-2001). O’Neill, who already holds the school mark for field goals in a single season with 18 in 2016, tied his own single-game school record of four field goals in 2016. … Towson improved to 19-6 in the series and 7-4 in Baltimore and has won the last three meetings against Morgan State. … The Tigers won back-to-back season openers for the first time since winning four straight between 2004 and 2007. … Towson has won four of its last five games dating back to Oct. 28. … The Bears have dropped their last six season openers, a drought that dates back to 2012 when that squad edged Sacred Heart, 30-27, in overtime on Sept. 1. … Morgan State extended its losing streak to six games and has not won since Oct. 14 in a 48-28 rout of Savannah State.