College Football

‘I hate thinking about that game’: A brief oral history of Towson vs. North Dakota State football in the 2013 FCS title game

When asked to assess the strengths of his team’s next opponent, North Dakota State, Towson football coach Rob Ambrose quipped, “Which player would you like me to brag about and how much time do you guys want to stay online?”

While the Bison have been perennial contenders for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision title for the past decade, success has been maddeningly fleeting for the Tigers. Since their first — and only — appearance in the FCS title game on Jan. 4, 2014, they have qualified for the playoffs just once.


Saturday’s home opener, a 6 p.m. kickoff at Johnny Unitas Stadium, will pit Towson against North Dakota State in a rematch of that championship final, which the Bison won, 35-7. Here are some perspectives from Ambrose and the players who took part in that game and historic year.

The buildup

On Aug. 12, Gavin Class, a junior offensive lineman who grew up in Monkton and graduated from St. Paul’s, collapsed due to a heatstroke during a practice — just two days after starting at right guard during an intra-squad scrimmage. While he recovered, Class served as inspiration to his teammates.


Quarterback Peter Athens, now a 30-year-old police officer in Arlington, Texas: “I remember getting the team together probably a week later while we were still in camp and living in the dorms and saying, ‘This season is for Gavin.’ Also, Coach [John] Donatelli, our offensive line coach, his father passed away. So we had a lot to play for that season.”

Outside linebacker Telvion Clark, a 30-year-old owner of Splashh and Skrimp in Greensboro, North Carolina: “A lot of us wrote his name on our wristbands and tape and towels just to kind of say that we were playing for Gavin.”

Right guard Gavin Class, a 28-year-old sports performance coach in Denver: “I remember being told that I had won the starting job. So I would have been blocking for Pete in the national championship game if I was still playing.”

Ambrose: “We were living in a world where we were worried about one of our own and still trying to win football games. There was a lot of emotion that went along with that year.”

After a 10-2 regular season — the program’s first 10-win mark since 1983 — Towson walloped Fordham, 48-28, at home before upending Eastern Illinois, 49-39, and Eastern Washington, 35-31, in back-to-back road contests to advance to the title game. The offensive catalyst was running back Terrance West, who rushed for 2,410 yards and an FCS single season-record 40 touchdowns in the team’s first 15 games before playing for four NFL clubs, including the Ravens.

Running back Darius Victor, a 27-year-old contractor for the U.S. State Department: “It was the playoffs, the best of the best, and we came out on fire. That gave us the confidence in believe in ourselves and take it into next week.”

Cornerback Tye Smith, a 28-year-old member of the Minnesota Vikings practice squad: “Nobody was expecting us to even be as good of a playoff team as we were let alone get to the national championship.”

Towson’s win at Eastern Washington was sparked by backup quarterback Connor Frazier, who replaced Athens in the second quarter and rallied the team from a 10-point deficit with less than six minutes left in regulation. Athens, who strained his right throwing shoulder in the second quarter of that game, had two weeks to try to recover in time to meet North Dakota State.


Quarterback Connor Frazier, a 28-year-old associate at Booz Allen Hamilton in Bethesda: “Coach Ambrose just came up to me at halftime and said, ‘Let’s go have fun. The game plan isn’t really changing. Let’s go have fun, and see where we go from there.’ That made me feel calm.”

Athens: “I was going to play no matter what. There was no question about it.”

The game

Before the game, Towson found out a few players would be ineligible after failing a drug test. That included a pair of starters in cornerback Jordan Love (64 total tackles and 10 pass breakups) and tight end James Oboh (24 catches for 354 yards and four touchdowns).

Strong safety Donnell Lewis, a 27-year-old defensive backs coach at Carver Tech and a hauler for Amazon: “Everyone knows from our team that if we had all of our players that failed that drug test, everyone knows it would have been a different outcome. I’m not saying we would have won, but it would have been a much closer game.”

Victor: “Not having those guys was detrimental to our whole game plan.”

The game got off to a bad start before kickoff. An ice storm a couple days earlier wreaked havoc on the new sod laid down on the field at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, and the players’ cleats left sizable divots throughout the turf.


Frazier: “I honestly think that did hurt us a bit because I think our team speed was a little better than their team speed. But I think that hindered us with the way the field was in such bad condition.”

Victor: “I played on fields with no grass, and they were still better than that field.”

Ambrose: “I remember the commercial breaks where every administrator, every dude with a suit and tie was out on the field like it was a polo match, trying to replace the divots so that nobody saw how bad it was on TV.”

With the score tied at 7-7 in the latter half of the second quarter, DJ Soven — not Drew Evangelista, who had converted 5-of-12 field goals (including a 50-yarder) in the first 15 games — attempted a 41-yard field goal that was blocked by North Dakota State. The Bison converted that miscue into a touchdown, added another score to enjoy a 21-7 lead at halftime and scored on their first possession of the third quarter.

Athens: “I think that crushed us, them getting that. I think after that blocked field goal and them scoring right off the bat in the third quarter, that got us thinking, ‘This is going to be tough to come back from.’”

Kicker Drew Evangelista, a 30-year-old former senior account executive with the New York Jets: “Anytime I went out there, I felt good about my chances, and I was confident in my abilities. But at the same time, I put trust in the coaches as well to make the best decisions.”


Clark: “We were definitely trying to come out of halftime and get a stop. That would have been the optimal situation for us.”

Smith: “I feel like that whole year, we were a second-half team. A lot of the games we ended up winning, they were in the second half, and I think that caught up with us in the championship to where we were unable to comeback from the deficit like we did against other teams.”

The aftermath

That was the third of five consecutive titles — an FCS record — for North Dakota State, which added three straight championships between 2017 to 2019. Towson lost in the first round of its only playoff appearance in 2018.

Ambrose: “What a bad head coach I was because I didn’t talk about winning it. I just talked about getting there, and when we got there, we were like, ‘What are we going to do now?’ We could try to win it of course, but words have power, and I could have done better.”

Victor: “There was never a moral victory. We were never that type of team. We were sad and we were upset that we lost, but looking back at it, it’s great we got that far, and we can celebrate it. But in the moment, we were disappointed in ourselves that we didn’t come out there and play to the best of our abilities.”

Lewis: “I hate thinking about that game.”


Frazier: “Even though we lost the game, I remember just kind of looking around after the game at the stands, the field, my teammates and just soaking it all in because you never really know if you’ll ever get back there. It was just an awesome experience.”


Saturday, 6 p.m.