KINGSTON, R.I. - With the Tigers clinging to a 29-28 lead and less than seven minutes remaining in the game, freshman quarterback, Peter Athens, made the biggest play of his young career. As a result, the Tigers (2-3, 1-1) pulled out a 36-28 Colonial Athletic Association victory over the University of Rhode Island (1-4, 0-2) at Meade Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Faced with a fourth down-and-two at the Rams' 35-yard line, Athens rolled to his right, found his receivers covered and kept the ball. After breaking a tackle, he burst into the open and dove into the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown run. When freshman Marc Magas added the extra point, the Tigers owned a 36-28 lead with 6:50 remaining in the game.
"This was a great team win," said Athens, a first-year freshman and a product of Huntingtown High School. "The offensive line did a great job all day and I got some blocks that sprung me into the open. I was just trying to pick up the first down. When I broke into the open, I was trying to run as fast as I could because I knew there were a bunch of guys chasing me."
In the final minutes, the Rams drove into Towson territory. But when junior cornerback Ollie Thomas tackled quarterback D.J. Stefkovich on a fourth down run at the Tigers' 25-yard line with 46 seconds left, the Tigers pulled out the win.
The victory ended Towson's 13-game losing streak on the road. It was the Tigers' first road win since a 28-21 win at Morgan State on September 8, 2007.
"This was a tremendous team victory," said Rob Ambrose, the Tigers' first-year coach. "Everyone contributed - our offense, our defense and our special teams. We have a lot of injuries and we had to play some people in different spots. When we had some more injuries during the game, we were forced to improvise. So we needed something from everyone."
The Tigers opened the game with by jumping out to a 20-0 lead midway through the first quarter as they took advantage of two Rhode Island turnovers.
On the Tigers' second offensive play, Athens threw a sideline pass to junior wide receiver Hakeem Moore along the left sideline. Moore eluded the first URI defensive back and raced down the sidelines for a 78-yard touchdown, giving Towson a 6-0 just 50 seconds into the game. Magas missed the conversion kick and the score remained at 6-0.
On the Rams' first possession, sophomore safety Josh McCants sacked Stefkovich and forced a fumble. Sophomore tackle Rob Osborne recovered at the URI 34-yard line to give Towson great field position.
On first down, Athens scrambled for 14 yards to the Rams' 20. A pass interference penalty in the end zone gave Towson a first down at the five-yard line. On the next play, Tremayne Dameron ran around the right end for five yards and touchdown. When Magas converted, Towson had a 13-0 lead with 11:31 remaining in the quarter.
Moments later, the Tigers came up with another turnover when Stefkovich fumbled and linebacker Danzel White recovered at the Rams' 29-yard line. For the third straight possession, the Tigers drove for a touchdown as they marched 29 yards in six plays. Dameron's three-yard touchdown run with 7:21 remaining in the first quarter gave Towson a 20-0 lead.
It was quite a turnaround from the previous week when Towson trailed New Hampshire by 30-0 midway through the first quarter.
"It did remind me of the first quarter last week when we were on the other end of something like that," added Ambrose. "But we knew the game was far from over."
Trailing by 20-0, the Rams wasted little time getting back in the game. A 25-yard kickoff return by Robenson Alexis gave the Rams great field position. Two plays later, the Rams moved to the Towson 48-yard line. On first down, freshman running back Ayo Isijola ran off left tackle and sprinted toward the end zone for a touchdown. His 48-yard TD run and Louis Feinstein's conversion cut the Tigers' deficit to 20-7.
A penalty on the ensuing kickoff backed the Tigers up deep in their own territory. Punting from his own end zone, Bill Shears got his kick away and it rolled dead at the Towson 37-yard line. After the Tiger defense held the Rams to two yards on three plays, the Rams elected to go for the first down on fourth down-and-eight. Stefkovich avoided a Tiger blitz and fired a 35-yard touchdown pass to senior Shawn Leonard. After the touchdown pass, the Rams trailed by just 20-14 with 3:06 left in a high-scoring first quarter.
Late in the first quarter, a fumble by Isijola was recovered by junior safety Ray White, giving the Tigers another great scoring chance at Rams' 23-yard line. Facing fourth down at the 16-yard line, Athens threw a pass to freshman Erron Banks in the end zone. Banks was pushed while trying to make the catch and the officials threw a penalty flag for an apparent pass interference penalty. However, the officials held a brief conference. Moments later, the referee changed their call and waved off the penalty. So, the Tigers missed a chance to extend their lead.
Later in the second quarter, a 22-yard punt return by Jeremy Gardner gave the Tigers the ball at the Rams' 42-yard line. On first down, freshman wide receiver Tom Ryan made a brilliant one-handed catch at the Rams' six-yard line. On the next play, Dameron burst up the middle for a six-yard touchdown run, his third of the game.
The Tigers' two-point conversion attempt failed and Towson had a 26-14 with 4:06 remaining in the first half.
Just before halftime, junior safety Jarrod Williams intercepted a pass at the Towson 37-yard line and returned to the Towson eight. On third down, Stefkovich threw his second touchdown pass of the game, a seven-yard toss to Leonard, cutting the Rams' deficit to 26-21 with 1:25 remaining in the half.
With their lead trimmed to 26-21, the Tigers got another break. Feinstein's kickoff went out-of-bounds and the Tigers were awarded the ball at their own 40-yard line.
Athens led a 50-yard drive which included a 25-yard pass to senior Casey Cegles. When the drive stalled, Magas kicked the first field goal of his career, a 27-yard kick, that gave Towson a 29-21 lead at halftime.
In the second half, the Rams staged their most impressive drive of the game. On the opening drive of the third quarter, they marched 61 yards in ten plays to cut their deficit to 29-28. Stefkovich's third touchdown pass of the game, a six-yard toss to Joe Migliarese capped off the drive.
However, the Tiger defense stiffened and shut out the Rams the rest of the way. On the Rams' last four possessions, the Tigers forced three punts and held URI on downs.
After recovering two fumbles in the first four games, the Tiger defense recovered three fumbles in the first quarter of the win over Rhode Island.
Making the fifth start of his career, Athens completed 11 of 21 passes for a career high 188 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a career best 74 yards and a touchdown.
Dameron, who scored three touchdowns, rushed for 34 yards on 14 carries while Dominique Booker ran for 37 yards on eight attempts.
Moore caught four passes for 91 yards, including his career long 78-yard touchdown reception. He also returned two kickoffs for 78 yards, giving him 169 all-purpose yards.
The Tigers return to Johnny Unitas® Stadium next Saturday afternoon when they host Delaware at 3:30 p.m. for Homecoming.
TIGER TIDBITS: The Tigers' 36 points were the most points they scored in a game since their 37-32 win over Rhode Island last season ... Towson also snapped a six-game losing streak in CAA games ... The Tigers' victory was their third in a row over Rhode Island ... The teams have now met ten times and each team has five wins.
Senior David Newsom caught three passes for 19 yards but missed part of the game after being injured on a punt return ... Ryan had two receptions for 50 yards.
After starting 16 consecutive games at linebacker, Donte Blakey was sidelined with an injury at URI ... Romale Tucker took his spot in the lineup and made three tackles.