DURHAM, N.H. - Needing a victory to secure a berth in the NCAA FCS playoffs, 14th-ranked New Hampshire (7-4, 5-3) rolled to a 31-3 halftime lead and handed the Tigers (1-10, 0-8) a 38-19 Colonial Athletic Association loss in the regular season finale for both teams at Cowell Stadium before a crowd of 5,003 on Saturday afternoon.
With the victory, the Wildcats virtually assured themselves of earning a berth in the NCAA FCS Playoffs for the seventh consecutive season. UNH owns the second-longest streak of consecutive NCAA post-season appearances in the nation, a mark topped only by Montana.
The 20-team NCAA FCS playoff field will be announced on Sunday morning. As many as six CAA schools could be selected to participate.
The loss was Towson's sixth defeat at the hands of a nationally-ranked FCS team this season. Previously, the Tigers had lost to #1 Villanova, #8 Massachusetts, #7 James Madison, #16 Richmond and #5 Delaware.
"We knew that this would be an extremely tough game for us," said Towson Coach Rob Ambrose. "New Hampshire has a great program and we wish them well in the playoffs. UNH has an extremely impressive defensive team and you can tell that they have great team chemistry.
"We came into this game without some of our upperclassmen," he added. "Over the last week or so, we've had a number of upperclassmen make some selfish decisions that were not in the best interest of our football program. So, we had to deal with that today. But we have a greater number of players in this program who are doing things the right way and I'm very proud of them. The future of this program is very bright."
Once again, turnovers hurt the Tigers as they turned the ball over four times while UNH had one turnover.
The turnovers led to 14 UNH points as the Tigers finished the season with a minus-14 turnover ratio. In 11 games, the Tigers turned the ball over 23 times while forcing nine turnovers.
Making his first start of the season and the second start of his career, sophomore quarterback Brian Potts was hindered by three interceptions. He also threw the first touchdown pass of his career in the fourth quarter and scored his first career touchdown on a two-yard run in the final minute of the game.
After the start of the game was delayed almost ten minutes due to New Hampshire's Senior Day ceremony, the Tigers stunned the Wildcats.
On the second play from scrimmage, Potts threw a perfect pass down the middle to sophomore wide receiver Sherman Greene, who caught the pass in stride and was finally tackled at the UNH 19-yard line. The 56-yard reception was Greene's first catch of the season and gave the Tigers a first down deep in UNH territory.
On third down, Potts scrambled for five yards to the UNH 11-yard line but he was two yards short of the first down. Senior Nick Wallace came into the game and kicked a 28-yard field goal to give Towson a 3-0 lead with 12:01 left in the first quarter. It marked the first time this season that the Tigers scored on their opening drive.
If the Wildcats were truly stunned, it took them very little time to recover. Led by senior quarterback R.J. Toman, the Wildcats marched 78 yards in 12 plays to score a touchdown and take a 7-3 lead. On the drive, Toman directed the Wildcats' no-huddle offense and completed all five pass attempts for 57 yards. Facing third down and goal at the Towson six-yard line, Toman rolled to his right and lofted a pass into the right corner of the end zone where senior wide receiver Kevon Mason outjumped two Tiger defensive backs to catch the six-yard touchdown pass. When freshman Mike MacArthur converted, the Wildcats owned a 7-3 lead with 6:54 left in the first quarter.
An interception by junior cornerback Kyle Flemings near midfield ended the Tigers' second possession and gave UNH a first down at its own 46-yard line. Three plays later, Toman fired a 28-yard touchdown pass down the far sideline to senior wide receiver Mike Greene. That gave the Wildcats a 14-3 advantage with 4:08 left in the first quarter.
On the Wildcats' first two possessions, Toman completed all seven passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns.
Late in the first quarter, Toman was sacked on a third down-and-long play by linebacker Brian Botaneg-Botwe and safety Jordan Dangerfield at the Wildcats' 15-yard line, forcing a punt. Toman suffered an ankle injury and had to be helped off the field. He did not return.
On the Wildcats' first possession of the second quarter, junior Kevin Decker took over at quarterback. With Decker running the offense, the Wildcats didn't miss a beat. A 20-yard pass play to sophomore Joey Orlando gave UNH a first down at the Towson 34-yard line. After the Wildcats reached the Tigers' 10-yard line, Decker completed a screen pass to Sean Jellsion, who was tackled for a four-yard loss by senior cornerback Jeremy Gardner. On the next play, MacArthur kicked a 31-yard field goal to give UNH a 17-3 lead with 12:31 remaining in the first half.
Less than a minute later, Potts tried to throw a screen pass to Tremayne Dameron. However, sophomore linebacker Matt Evans read the play perfectly and stepped in front of Dameron to make an interception. He returned the pickoff 25 yards for a touchdown, giving UNH a 24-3 lead with 11:43 left in the first half.
The interception return for a touchdown marked the fourth time in the last three meetings that a UNH defensive player has intercepted a Towson pass and returned it for a touchdown.
Late in the first half, the Wildcats put together their longest drive of the game. They marched 82 yards in 12 plays for another touchdown. Decker capped off the drive by throwing a 12-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Kyle Auffray, his first TD reception of the season. That gave the Wildcats a 31-3 lead at halftime.
On the opening kickoff of the second half, junior linebacker John Duffey of UNH fumbled the short kickoff and Dangerfield recovered at the Wildcats' 34-yard line, giving Towson a great chance to cut into its deficit.
The Tigers marched to the UNH five-yard line. On second down-and-two, Dameron ran to the one-yard line where Evans forced a fumble. Senior defensive back Dino Vasso recovered the fumble and UNH had a first down at its own one-yard line.
On the next play, the Tigers scored. Sophomore defensive end Frank Beltre and freshman linebacker Kyle Polk broke through and tackled Jellison in the end zone for a safety, cutting the Tigers' deficit to 31-5.
It was the first safety recorded by the Tiger defense since October 21, 2006 at Villanova.
However, the safety did not provide the Tigers with any momentum. On the first play after receiving the free kick, Potts threw his third interception as Anthony Gorrell picked off a pass at the Wildcats' 45-yard line.
"We are not pleased with the play of our quarterbacks," said Coach Ambrose. "It's been like this all season. Turnovers have been disastrous for us and we can't keep doing that."
Midway through the third quarter, the Wildcats had great field position, thanks to a short punt into the win by D.J. Soven. Starting from the Towson 43-yard line, the Wildcats drove 43 yards in eight plays. Decker's 20-yard touchdown run around the right end upped the lead to 38-5 with 5:32 left in the third quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Potts found senior Hakeem Moore wide open on the near sideline near midfield. He threw a pass to Moore, who caught the ball at the UNH 45-yard line and outraced several Wildcats to the end zone for a 64-yard touchdown pass. It was Moore's sixth touchdown catch of the season and it cut the Wildcats' lead to 38-12 with 14:52 left in the game.
It was also the first touchdown pass of Potts' career.
With 10:19 remaining in the game, the Tigers took possession of the ball at their own 31-yard line after a 45-yard punt by Ryan Glasgow.
Over the next 9:19, the Tiger offense marched 69 yards on 17 plays, all running plays, to score its final touchdown of the season. Potts capped off the drive when he scored on a two-yard touchdown run with 1:00 remaining in the game.
After that drive, the Wildcats ran out the final minute of the game to preserve their 38-19 victory.
The 69-yard drive also featured three consecutive carries by senior defensive tackle Yaky Ibia, who entered the game as a running back. The 6-2, 290-pound Ibia rushed for seven yards on three carries and picked up a first down on fourth down-and-one at the Tigers' 41-yard line.
"That was something we wanted to do for Yaky," explained Coach Ambrose. "He has meant so much to our program. He was the perfect player to receive that kind of special treatment."
Dameron led the Tiger offense with 100 rushing yards on 28 carries. With the third 100-yard running game of his career, he became the 20th player in Towson history to rush for more than 1,000 yards. He now has 1,065 yards on 301 carries.
Potts completed seven of ten passes for 136 yards and one touchdown with three interceptions. He also ran for ten yards on five carries with a touchdown.
Moore caught three passes for 90 yards and a touchdown. He also returned two kickoffs for 43 yards and had 133 all-purpose yards in his final college game. Averaging 129.8 all-purpose yards per game, Moore finished second in the CAA to Jonathan Grimes of William & Mary.
Moore also finished his career with 3,499 all-purpose yards in 33 games, the third highest total in school history. He caught 106 passes for 1,397 yards and eight touchdowns in his career. As a senior, he had four touchdown receptions of 59 yards or more.
Decker and Toman combined to complete 20 of 25 passes against the Tigers for 177 yards and three touchdowns. Toman was eight-for-eight for 95 yards and two TD's while Decker passed for 82 yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore linebacker Brian Boateng-Botwe led the Tiger defense with nine tackles while Beltre made eight tackles. In his final game, Gardner made six tackles and broke up two passes.
Dangerfield, who led the Tigers with 96 tackles on the season, made six tackles against New Hampshire. He also recorded a half-sack and recovered a fumble. Ibia made five tackles in his final college game.
TIGER TALES: The Tigers ran for 148 yards in the game while the Wildcats rushed for 137 yards ... The Tigers also won the battle for time of possession and had the ball for 34:17.
The Tigers finished the season with 1,463 rushing yards in 11 games ... Averaging 133.0 rushing yards per game, the Tigers finished sixth in the CAA ... The total of 1,463 yards marks the highest single season rushing total by Towson since the 2005 season when the Tigers ran for 1,499 yards.
In addition to leading the Tigers, Dangerfield topped all CAA defensive backs with 8.7 tackles per game ... Beltre made 85 tackles in 11 games, an average of 7.7 tackles per game that ranked second among all CAA defensive linemen ... Ibia, who had 55 tackles in 11 games, was fourth among CAA defensive linemen.
Ibia tied for second in the CAA with 13.5 tackles for lost yardage ... Linebacker Joe Harris of Rhode Island led the CAA with 21 tackles for lost yardage while Ibia was tied for second with Martin Parker of Richmond.
With the win, New Hampshire extended its all-time series lead over Towson to 7-0 ... The Tigers, who lost their last nine games in a row, tied the school record for losses in a season, a mark set in 1991 when Towson was also 1-10.