When the Towson University Tigers take the field in Frisco, Texas on Saturday afternoon, it will be the first time since the Tigers' 1991 men’s lacrosse team a Towson team has played for a national championship. It will also be the first time since 1983 a Towson football team will play North Dakota State. The Tigers lost a tough one in Fargo 24-17 in the first round of the Division II playoffs that year.
This time it’s for all the marbles.
A little history
As I mentioned last week, on the way back from the Tigers' win against Eastern Washington, my mind wandered to certain moments in the history of this program. Even though Towson Sports Network engineer extraordinaire Zach "Junior” Maskavich likes to remind me of how much older than him I am, I haven’t been around since the beginning of the program.
Towson football started in 1969; I have only been around since 1978. I thought about my first road trip with the football team, in 1979 to take on Ashland College on October 27. The Tigers won 21-15. It was the Tigers' first year in Division II, and the offense was led by my broadcast partner, Towson Hall of Fame quarterback Ron Meehan. Ron helped the team go 9-1 that season.
Due to a schedule that still included some Division III teams, the Tigers' lack of schedule strength kept them out of the '79 playoffs. It was still a great debut for a team taking a step up.
The 1984 season
Another great season was 1984. The Tigers won their first Division II playoff game. Towson beat Norfolk State, 31-21, on the road. It was a team led by Kurt Beathard and Dale Chipps on offense and Bill Ward and Allen Argent on defense. That team lost in the second round to Troy State, coached by future Dallas Cowboy Head Coach Chan Gailey. The memories of that team are great.
The 1987 season
In 1987 the Tigers moved up to Division I-AA, what is now known as FCS. Even though the Tigers had a Walter Payton Award winner in David Meggett, it took seven years and a coaching change for Towson to have a winning record at this level.
Mix in 1990 when the school came close to shutting down the football program, for those of us who lived through that (including Head Coach Rob Ambrose who was a player then), this season's run to the championship game is oh so sweet.
There have been great wins against opponents that were supposedly too tough for the Tigers to beat like Connecticut in 2013 and Delaware in 1993. There were also moments like the school’s first win against an Ivy League team against Brown in 2002 and Sean Schaefer outdueling Joe Flacco in Newark, Del., 49-35, in 2006. Then there was fourth-and-29 against Old Dominion in 2011. For diehard Towson fans, that was one of the sweetest moments in years.
There have also been many bleak seasons since I started at Towson as a student in 1978. The run this 2013 team has made has made all of those sad Saturdays fade even further in our memories. Win or lose, Saturday can't take away the accomplishments of this group of young men.
The amount of old friends and acquaintances who have called, emailed or texted me over the last 10 days all ask the same question. “Can they win?” They all get the same answer. “You're darn right they can!!”
The Bison and the Tigers
All you keep hearing about is what a juggernaut this Bison team is. NDSU deserves all the accolades heaped upon them. The Bison have won two straight FCS Championships. They are 14-0 this season, and they have blown away both of their playoff opponents.
But look what the Tigers have done. They have gone on the road the past two weeks and taken down the number two and three seeds. They outdueled the two best offenses in FCS football. And again, they did it on the road.
It was great to see Peter Athens practicing on Monday. Hopefully that is an indication he will be able to start against North Dakota State on Saturday. We all know the Tigers have the best running back in FCS football, and probably one of the five best in the country period with Terrance West.
But Athens has been brilliant in the post season. He went 13-for-15 for 301 yards and three touchdown passes against Fordham, an efficient eight-for-13 for 115 yards against Eastern Illinois, and eight-for-nine for 144 yards and two touchdowns against Eastern Washington before getting hurt.
Keys to the win
For the Tigers to win, they will have to make the best defense in FCS football worried about the pass. The Bison only give up 11 points a game. But they haven’t faced an offense like Towson’s. The Tigers are going to have to get NDSU away from stacking the box to stop TWest. Athens playing the way he has does that.
The defense will have to play to a very high standard. Brock Jensen is a very, very good veteran quarterback. He is efficient passing and can run. He has thrown 33 touchdown passes with just seven INTs. Jensen has also run for 459 yards.
The Tiger defense will also have to slow down the two-headed rushing attack of Sam Ojuri and John Crockett. Ojuri has run for 1314 yards, and Crockett is just behind at 1191. Both average 6.6 yards per carry. A tough task, but the Tigers' defense has the talent to get the job done.
One more key to a Towson victory, special teams. The Tigers can’t afford to make any errors. No blocked punts or missed extra points. Those could be backbreakers in a close game.
Most importantly, whatever happens on the fourth, we should all enjoy this.
It’s been 37 years since Towson has played for a football national championship. It’s not easy to get there. We should all be proud and thank these young men who have shown the entire country what a great university we have. In the end, that’s the most important thing we can take out of this game.
Don’t forget to turn down the TV sound and tune in to Ron Meehan, Damon Lewis, Zach Maskavich and me on Saturday. We will be on the air at 1 p.m. with an hour pre-game show right here on the Towson Sports Network.
Have a safe and happy New Year everyone. Again, win or lose, the fourth day of 2014 will be one all of us who bleed black and gold will always remember.