TOWSON, Md. - Closing out the season against James Madison University for the sixth consecutive year, Coach Rob Ambrose and the Tiger football team will travel to Harrisonburg, Va. to face the Dukes in the season finale on Saturday, November 21 at 3:00 p.m. The game will be broadcast back to the Baltimore area on WNST-Radio (1570-AM) with Spiro Morekas and Tom Judd describing the action.
After dropping three straight games to nationally-ranked Colonial Athletic Association opponents, the Tigers are hoping to end the season on a positive note. The injury-riddled Tigers have a 2-8 record and a 1-6 mark in the CAA. Riding a three-game winning streak, James Madison has a 5-5 record, including a 3-4 CAA record.
"We are going to re-evaluate our injury list and see who is still standing," said Coach Rob Ambrose, who will conclude his first season as the Tigers' coach on Saturday. "This game is all about pride. JMU is a perennial winner and they are getting better every week."
Despite a rash of injuries and a difficult schedule that is ranked as the seventh-toughest schedule in NCAA FCS, Coach Ambrose declines to make excuses.
"I don't care how mismatched we are. Quitting is never an option," he says. "If you don't want to fight the fight, then you don't get to wear the jersey. I don't care if we are playing Alabama. If they're the guys dressed up on the other side of the line of scrimmage, then we're going to fight to the end. If not, then you are not going to play football here at Towson. That's just the way it is."
The Tigers enter their game at James Madison seeking to end a pair of streaks. Towson has lost five games in a row to the Dukes, including a 58-27 decision last year when JMU clinched the CAA title and the number one seed in the NCAA FCS Tournament. In addition to losing five straight to JMU, Towson has dropped six consecutive games at Bridgeforth Stadium.
Although Towson and James Madison did not play between 1992 and 2004, the series is the Tigers' oldest rivalry. The teams met for the first time in 1976 when they were both very young football programs competing at the NCAA Division III level. When the Tigers and the Dukes played that first game, Towson had just been renamed Towson State University while JMU was still called Madison College.
The Dukes edged the Tigers by 28-26 in the first meeting. Since 1976, the Tigers and the Dukes have played 21 times and JMU leads the series, 15-5-1. The Dukes' 15 victories against Towson are clearly the most wins of any Tiger opponent. No other program has more than ten wins over Towson.
"From my days as a player and assistant coach, I can remember that Towson-JMU games were always special," says Ambrose. In fact, Coach Ambrose was a member of the Tigers' coaching staff in 1992 when the Tigers beat James Madison, 28-21.
The Tigers, who have lost to #1 Richmond, #5 William & Mary and #3 Villanova in the last three weeks, are probably a better team than their 2-8 record would suggest. Of the Tigers' eight losses, five have come at the hands of NCAA FCS nationally-ranked teams. In addition to losses to Richmond, William & Mary and Villanova, the Tigers have fallen to #6 New Hampshire and #23 Delaware.
In addition, the Tigers dropped their season opener to Northwestern, an NCAA FBS program that has a 7-4 record and stands fifth in the Big Ten Conference with a 4-3 record.
Most of the Tigers' injuries have been on the offensive side of the ball. In the Tigers' loss to Delaware, junior center Steve Jordan and freshman quarterback Peter Athens suffered serious injuries and have missed the last four games.
With Jordan and Athens in the lineup, the Tigers averaged 18.0 points per game as well as 285.0 total yards and 143.2 rushing yards per game. However, those numbers have dipped in the last four games as they are averaging only 7.0 points per game while gaining 52.0 rushing yards and 200.0 total yards per game.
The Tigers' offensive line has been hit very hard by injuries. In addition to Jordan, the Tigers have lost sophomore tackle Henry Glackin and sophomore guard John Esposito to injuries. Towson has started nine different offensive line combinations and 11 different linemen have started games. Their shortage of offensive linemen has forced two players to switch positions. Junior Ryan Hanley moved from fullback to offensive guard while sophomore Ben Hunolt moved from defensive tackle to offensive tackle.
Sophomore Dan Hurley has been one of the most valuable linemen. He has played in all 10 games and he has started games at left guard, right guard and offensive center. He has started at center the last three games with Jordan on the sidelines.
Senior Dan Bridges has started all 10 games at right tackle. The 6-6, 290-pound veteran has started 42 games in his career and has been Towson's most reliable lineman again this season.
Quarterback Brian Potts, a "red shirt" freshman, was a bright spot against Villanova. Potts played most of the game against the Wildcats, completing 21 of 31 passes for 177 yards. He probably earned the right to start at James Madison.
Towson has started three different quarterbacks this year. Athens started six games before his season-ending knee injury. Tommy Chroniger made three starts. Senior Blair Peterson started against Villanova.
Linebacker Danzel White, a "red shirt" freshman, has been one of the top performers for the much-improved Tiger defense. White has a team-leading 105 tackles in ten games. He is ranked third in the Colonial Athletic Association in tackles with a 10.5 average.
Collins and Gardner have combined with junior cornerback Ollie Thomas and junior safety Ray White to help the Tigers rank fifth in the CAA in pass defense. Towson is allowing 179.2 passing yards per game.
Senior Brady Smith and junior Yaky Ibia have been the Tigers' top defensive linemen. Smith has made 54 tackles in 10 games and ranks seventh among CAA defensive linemen with 5.4 tackles per game. Ibia is sixth among CAA linemen with 5.7 tackles per game. He has 11.5 tackles for lost yardage, seventh in the CAA.
Bridges, Peterson and Smith are two of 12 Tiger seniors who will be playing in their final college football game on Saturday. Defensive lineman Alex Avolio, linebacker Alex Butt, wide receiver Casey Cegles, tight end John Godlasky, wide receiver David Newsom, punter Bill Shears, offensive tackle Leon Stevenson, wide receiver Tamba Tongu and tight end Wes White will all be making their final appearance.
"I am very proud of that group of seniors," says Coach Ambrose. "With the coaching change, they were put in a very tough situation. I give them a lot of credit. It's very hard when you come to your last football game. It's a shock to your soul. But they have done a lot for this football program and they've done a lot for the University. I will always appreciate that."
TIGER TALES: After being penalized 47 times for 402 yards in the first six games of the season, the Tigers have been drastically better in recent weeks ... In their last four games, the Tigers have only been penalized 11 times for 101 yards ... Towson actually played the first penalty-free game in school history three weeks ago against Richmond.