Towson-Morgan State 'Battle for Greater Baltimore' football series to resume Sept. 2

Always one to dream big, Towson football coach Rob Ambrose shared his vision for the revival of an annual series between the Tigers and Morgan State.

“Give a mouse a cookie, that’s me,” Ambrose said, referring to a popular children’s book series. “My goal is well beyond this game — and it should be yours, too — that by the time we’re a little bit older, the venues that we own won’t hold this game and that this game gets played at M&T [Bank Stadium] in front of the entire city of Baltimore so that for one day and for one day only, it’s our city, it’s our football teams — the way it’s supposed to be — and it’s our community.”

Ambrose’s thoughts were embraced by Bears coach Fred T. Farrier and representatives from both universities who attended a news conference Tuesday at The Greene Turtle in Towson to kick off the return of a rivalry known as “The Battle for Greater Baltimore.”

Towson and Morgan State will meet for the first time since 2011 on Sept. 2 at Johnny Unitas Stadium in the season opener for both teams, with kickoff at 6 p.m. Morgan State will host the game in 2018 at a date and time to be determined.

Despite being separated by about five miles, the teams have not played each other since Sept. 3, 2011, when the Tigers earned a 42-3 victory at home. After that game, the series was put on hiatus for reasons unknown to many present at the conference.

But for Towson athletic director Tim Leonard, resuming an annual tradition against the Bears was a no-brainer.

“When I first got here, our schedule was full at first. So we couldn’t do anything immediately,” recalled Leonard, who was hired Aug. 1, 2013. “But I’m looking at this and going, ‘Why are we playing Delaware State and Saint Francis and some of these other FCS programs when we’ve got Morgan right down the road?’ It just made no sense to me. So I think this makes sense financially. It saves us both a lot of money in travel expenses, I think it’s great for media exposure because there’s going to be a lot more interest in his game than some of the other nonconference games that we will play, and hopefully, it will be fun.”

On the Morgan State side, athletic director Edward Scott said he received many requests from alumni to put the Tigers on the schedule as soon as he assumed office last October. Scott said he and Leonard have discussed extending the series for several more years.

“A lot of folks talked to me early and said, ‘What do you think about the Towson game?’ ” Scott said. “And when I got here, Tim had reached out within my first two weeks, and he and I sat down together and said, ‘Let’s make this happen.’ ”

Members of the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision, the Tigers own a 17-6 advantage in the series, including wins in the previous 12 meetings at home, and have enjoyed more success than the Bears. Under Ambrose, the program has captured one Colonial Athletic Association championship, qualified for two NCAA playoff appearances and reached the FCS title game in 2013.

Since then however, Towson has fallen short of matching those accomplishments. The school has only one winning season in its past three, going 15-19 overall and 10-14 in the CAA during that span.

That might have led Ambrose to dismiss the notion that his team is the considerable favorite against Morgan State.

“We haven’t held up our end of the bargain recently,” he said. “Our kids are very hungry to get back to respectability nationally and Morgan is game No. 1.”

Meanwhile, the Bears had gone 10 seasons with only one above .500 before Lee Hull guided the 2014 squad to a share of its first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship in 35 years and a berth in the FCS playoffs. Hull, who left after two years to become the wide receivers coach for the Indianapolis Colts, was replaced by Farrier, the offensive coordinator whose 2016 team went 3-8 overall and 3-5 in the conference in his debut.

Farrier embraced the underdog label, but vowed to prepare his squad for the season opener at Johnny Unitas Stadium.

“I’m going to do my part to make sure that we put a competitive team on the field,” he told a crowd of about 60. “Just so everybody knows — we’ll put it out there just so that there’s some excitement to the game — we signed this big-time quarterback that they’ve got to figure out how to stop. So come out and see this guy [junior college transfer Elijah Staley]. He’s every bit of 6-7 and 255 pounds, and he can throw the ball. So come on out and check us out.”

Former Towson quarterback Dan Crowley, who led the 1993 and 1994 Tigers to wins in season finales against Morgan State, was delighted to see the game return.

“When I realized that it wasn’t an annual game, I thought, ‘Why not?’ ” said Crowley, now a senior associate athletic director for development at Towson. “It just felt natural. … That sounds so easy to say, but if you’ve got to play the out-of-conference teams, why wouldn’t you play the team across the street? I was fortunate to play in ’93 and ’94 to play against Morgan and it was the last game of the year in my junior and senior years, and looking back at that, I wish it had been all four years. … It’s that game that you look forward to. So I think it’s essential to have that game as a student-athlete and a football player.”

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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