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New QB Chris Ferguson, strong defense lift Towson football to 31-0 win over Morgan State in season opener

The Towson football program’s decision to bring in a former rival paid dividends Saturday.

Chris Ferguson, who starred at Colonial Athletic Association foe Maine for three seasons, was solid if not spectacular in his debut with the Tigers, passing for 269 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-0 victory over host Morgan State at Hughes Memorial Stadium in the season opener for both teams.

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Ferguson, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound redshirt senior who played at Liberty of the Football Bowl Subdivision last fall, was grateful for the opportunity to make his first start after beating out four other candidates for the starting role. But he acknowledged that he could have performed better.

“I’m going to want some throws back,” he said in Towson’s first shutout win since a 10-0 victory against the Bears on Sept. 2, 2017. “There were just drives overall that I think we should have finished, that we should have put in the end zone. So I got a little taste in my mouth, but it’s good to walk out of here with a ‘W’ and start the season 1-0.”

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Ferguson, who completed 20 of 33 passes, found his footing on the offense’s second possession of the game, a 10-play, 75-yard drive. He connected on three passes for 51 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown to redshirt senior tight end Jason Epps that gave Towson (1-0) a 6-0 lead with 2:21 left in the first quarter.

After a three-and-out, Ferguson only needed three plays to add to the Tigers’ advantage. From the 27-yard line, he hit Darien Street in stride around midfield, and the redshirt senior wide receiver raced untouched into the end zone. Ferguson then connected with redshirt senior wide receiver Caleb Smith to convert a 2-point play and extend Towson’s lead to 14-0 with 9:19 left in the second quarter.

Freshman kicker Keegan Vaughan completed the scoring in the first half by drilling a 29-yard field goal with no time remaining to give the Tigers a 17-0 cushion at halftime.

In the second half, Towson relied on its running game. The offense opened the second half with a 16-play, 77-yard march that consumed 8:41 off the clock and resulted in sophomore running back Devin Matthews plowing up the middle for a 2-yard touchdown with 6:14 left in the third quarter.

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Towson wide receiver Caleb Smith, left, tries to elude a tackle by Morgan State's Jae'Veyon Morton during a game Saturday at Hughes Memorial Stadium.
Towson wide receiver Caleb Smith, left, tries to elude a tackle by Morgan State's Jae'Veyon Morton during a game Saturday at Hughes Memorial Stadium. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

The unit then collected its final touchdown of the game when redshirt senior running back Kobe Young punched in a 1-yard run with 4:41 remaining.

Coach Rob Ambrose said Ferguson provided what he had anticipated from him in his first start since joining the team in June.

“A little rusty,” Ambrose said. “A little bit like a guy who only learned the offense in the summer. Good enough to win, but not good enough to win it all yet. But it’s easier to make these corrections and adjustments when it’s 31-0.”

For his part, Ferguson refused to use his still-developing grasp of the system as an excuse.

“I’ve had plenty of time to kind of learn it,” he said. “But once you get into a game, it’s different. It just is in terms of your connection with your receivers and feeling out how Coach Ambrose is calling plays and what he wants to accomplish. We’re just going to get better as the season goes on. Coming in during June is definitely a challenge, but it’s nothing we can’t handle.”

As good as the offense was, the defense might have been even more impressive. The unit surrendered only one first down in the first half, forced Morgan State to go three-and-out seven times and did not permit the Bears to cross midfield until their final two possessions of the game.

Senior safety S.J. Brown II, who paced the defense with five tackles, said he and his teammates had prioritized a shutout throughout the entire game.

“We take pride in that,” he said. “Our defense is very talented with a good group of guys and good chemistry. Everybody did exactly what they were supposed to do. … We had a statement to make, and I feel like we did that tonight.”

Morgan State, which absorbed its second shutout in as many seasons (48-0 loss at Norfolk State on Nov. 2, 2019), featured its own transfer at quarterback, but Neil Boudreau’s first start on the college level was not nearly as joyous. The 6-3, 220-pound graduate student completed just 2 of 9 passes for four yards, and the offense picked up just one first down in seven possessions in the first half.

Boudreau, who averaged 45.4 yards on seven punts in the first two quarters, was replaced in the second half by freshman Duce Taylor, (3-for-9 for 68 yards) and junior Jairus Grissom (1-for-3 for 7 yards).

“Lot of rust,” said coach Tyrone Wheatley, whose gameday roster listed 51 freshmen among a group of upperclassmen totaling 45. “Guys just throwing caution into the wind, meaning they didn’t play with a lot of technique. I think they just overexcited. As I told them in there, this one is on me. I ultimately have to get these guys better prepared. they just went out and played instead of doing the technical things and reading keys.”

TOWSON@NEW HAMPSHIRE

Saturday, 6 p.m.

Video: flosports.tv

MORGAN STATE@TULANE

Saturday, 1 p.m.

Video: ESPN+

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