The Towson football team’s attempt to take a page out of Delaware’s playbook fell 2 yards short.
A week after surrendering a game-winning touchdown with 30 seconds left in regulation in a four-point loss at the Blue Hens, the No. 15 Tigers’ bid to tie Saturday’s game against No. 23 Maine ended when redshirt junior running back Shane Simpson was stopped 2 yards short of the end zone on fourth-and-goal with 1:21 left. The Black Bears then ran out the remaining 81 seconds to cement a 35-28 win before an announced 7,356 at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson.
The setback dropped Towson (6-3, 4-2 Colonial Athletic Association) out of a tie for first place in the conference. The outcome was especially demoralizing considering No. 3 James Madison (6-3, 4-2) was stunned, 35-24, by unranked New Hampshire (3-6, 2-4). The Black Bears improved to 6-3, 5-1 and are tied with No. 13 Delaware (7-2, 5-1) for the top spot in the league.
“We didn’t take care of enough to get it done,” Tigers coach Rob Ambrose said. “We were in the driver’s seat, we knew exactly where we could go, we had complete control of that, and we gave that up by not taking care of the little things.”
Instead, Simpson was stopped by senior linebacker Sterling Sheffield, who credited redshirt freshman defensive end Jamehl Wiley with initially slowing Simpson long enough for both of them to prevent him from getting to the end zone.
“I thought he was going to pitch the ball back,” Sheffield said. “I peeked over, and I didn’t see anybody over there, and I was like, ‘Oh snap.’ He ended up keeping the ball and tried to run it in. Jamehl did a great job of getting penetration, and I was able to help him finish it off.”
Ambrose had no regrets about the play call, saying, “Rolling the dice. Didn’t win this time.”
Hosts are supposed to be generous, but the Tigers were too hospitable. The defense surrendered eight plays of at least 20 yards, including five in the first half, of which two went for long touchdowns. Redshirt freshman running back Ramon Jefferson powered Maine with 14 carries for 121 yards and three touchdowns, and sophomore quarterback Chris Ferguson completed 16 of 32 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns.
Flacco went 21-for-36 for 211 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, and ran for 67 yards. Simpson racked up 201 all-purpose yards on 50 rushing yards and one score, 64 receiving yards and one touchdown and 87 return yards.
The Tigers’ 21-7 deficit at halftime included going scoreless in the first quarter for the first time this season. The Black Bears did a good job of staying with Towson’s receivers, forcing Flacco to hold onto the ball a little longer than he was accustomed to.
“They were good at containing,” Flacco said. “I think an emphasis that they had was, when I scrambled, they were going to continue to cover well, and I think that’s what they did. When I got out of the pocket, they did a pretty good job of covering. I missed [wide receiver] Sam [Gallahan] on one late in the game, and that was the only one that I saw that maybe someone had cracked open when I was scrambling out there. They did a pretty good job, and that’s because they were in man; they weren’t in zone.”
The tide turned in the second half. After Maine answered a 36-yard field goal by Tigers junior kicker Aidan O’Neill with Jefferson’s second score of the game on a 2-yard run, Towson racked up 18 consecutive points. First was Flacco’s 26-yard touchdown pass to Simpson followed by a successful 2-point conversion, second was O’Neill’s 38-yard field goal and then Simpson’s 5-yard rush — the latter knotting the score at 28.
But Jefferson scored for the third time from 6 yards out, pushing a pile into the end zone with 6:29 remaining to set up the Black Bears’ defensive stand – which was exactly what coach Joe Harasymiak wanted.
“Our defense has been our backbone all year,” he said. “Today, they got challenged by the best offense we’ve gone against and the best player we’ve seen all year [in Flacco]. He’s an unbelievable player, and they’re going to win a lot more games. I don’t think there’s a position that we’d rather be in — back against it, the defense is out there and they made a play.”
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Notes: With two touchdowns, Simpson has scored at least once in each of Towson’s nine games. … Senior middle linebacker and Baltimore resident Diondre Wallace (Arundel) has 272 career tackles and is two stops shy of P.D. Moore, who ranks eighth in school history in tackles. ... Former safety and current Pittsburgh Steeler Jordan Dangerfield attended the game. … The Black Bears improved to 8-6 all-time against the Tigers and 5-2 on the road against Towson. … Jefferson’s first touchdown of 64 yards was the longest play from scrimmage for Maine and the longest play from scrimmage allowed by Towson.