Entering Saturday's Senior Game against Colonial Athletic Association rival James Madison, No. 7 Towson knew that a berth in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs was no guarantee after being snubbed last season.
Behind a career day from junior running back Terrance West (Northwestern) and several turnovers by James Madison, the Tigers (10-2, 6-2) increased their chances for a first-round bye and a home game in the second round of the FCS playoffs, running to a 28-17 victory at Johnny Unitas Stadium.
"This coaching staff, this administration, this town, owes those [19 seniors] a debt of gratitude that I don't know can truly be paid," coach Rob Ambrose said. "They're my family and I love them. I'm proud of them in a way that words can't express."
The Dukes (6-6, 3-5) got on the board first with a 29-yard touchdown pass from Michael Birdsong toAnthony Rose.
West tied the game with a 7-yard run with 1:47 left in the quarter.
Tigers cornerback Tye Smith, who was beaten over the middle on the touchdown, made up for his mistake by intercepting Birdsong's pass at the Towson 49-yard line and returning it to the James Madison 33.
"At the beginning of the game my adrenaline was rushing, so I let memy emotions take over," Smith said. "I had to calm down ," Smith said. "They [ran] the same exact play before, so the next play we were in Cover-2 and I had the flat so I jumped it."
West then broke his school record for most touchdowns in a season with his 30th on a 6-yard run with 5:40 remaining in the first half, putting the Tigers up 14-7.
Towson recovered James Madison's fumble off a bad snap on a fourth-down attempt, which led to a 35-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Peter Athens to backup quarterback Connor Frazier.
The sophomore was pushed into the lineup with leading receivers Spencer Wilkins (Mount Hebron) and Leon Kinnard out for the season with leg injuries.
The last time a quarterback caught a touchdown pass for Towson was in 1991, when Ambrose achieved the feat.
"Connor is clearly more athletic, because every touchdown that I ever caught I had to be in the end zone when I caught it," Ambrose said after the game.
Down 21-10, James Madison running back Dae-'Quan Scott returned a Towson punt 46 yards for a touchdown, cutting the lead to four points with 31 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
After failing to convert a first down in the third quarter, Athens drove the Tigers on a nine-play, 79-yard drive capped by West's 31st season touchdown on a 6-yard run.
West finished the game with 100 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries.
James Madison made a late push, but as it had all day, the Towson defense stiffened near the end zone.
Towson will now await its playoff fate, as the FCS Selection Show is today at 11:30 a.m. The team plans to host a Selection Show party at the University Union at 11 a.m.
“At the beginning of the game my adrenaline was rushing, so I let memy emotions take over,” Smith said. “I had to calm down ,” Smith said. “They [ran] the same exact play before, so the next play we were in Cover-2 and I had the flat so I jumped it.”