On Tuesday, Jan. 7, junior running back Terrance West declared for the NFL draft. A week after arriving in Frisco, Head Coach Rob Ambrose signed a contract extension through 2020, putting the exclamation point on the 2013 Towson football season.
In the spring of 2013, Ambrose was adamant about making sure the Tigers would not end up in the position they were in 2012 - left out of the playoffs despite recording a 6-2 record in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) with four straight victories.
"You don't let other people decide your fate," said Ambrose. "You need to do everything in your power to keep that from happening. It's not about just playing well or trying to win games. It's about making sure everybody knows we're going to give everything all the time, 60 minutes. It's not about just winning. We're going to score a lot of points and we're going to hold people from scoring."
Towson needed to make a statement in the 2013 season. In 2011, the Tigers arrived on the scene, winning their first CAA championship. In 2012, they were named co-CAA champions but didn't get an invite to the FCS Playoffs. So in 2013, they needed to "leave no doubt," and they lived up to the slogan by playing into January for the first time.
Let's take a brief look back at the amazing journey of the 2013-14 Tigers.
Game 1: Towson 33, UConn 18
The Tigers opened the season in style, as West ran for 156 yards and scored two touchdowns. Towson clinched the win on a West five-yard touchdown run with 16 seconds left giving, Towson one of the largest victories by an FCS team over an FBS opponent. At this point, Towson fans had the feeling this could be the start of something special.
Game 2: Towson 49, Holy Cross 7
Senior quarterback Peter Athens produced one of his best games with a career-high 232 yards and two touchdown passes. The fifth-ranked Tigers had their largest margin of victory on the road since a 48-0 win over Southern Connecticut in 1994. West also broke the school record for career touchdowns with his 48th.
Game 3: Towson 49, Delaware State 7
The Tigers were finally home; West scored five touchdowns to tie a school record for touchdowns in a game, set by Tony Vinson against Morgan State in 1993. The Towson defense allowed just 249 total yards and forced four turnovers.
Game 4: Towson 35, N.C. Central 17
Towson was back on the road for a third straight game, and the Tigers extended their winning streak to eight. This was a tougher game than they had hoped. The Tigers didn't put the game away until freshman Darius Victor scored on a 10-yard run with 1:35 left in the game. West ran for 139 yards on 31 carries and scored twice.
Game 5: Towson 35, Stony Brook 21
The Tigers rallied from a 21-10 halftime deficit to stun Stony Brook, one of two new CAA football members. Victor scored on a 31-yard run with 2:38 left to give the Tigers the lead. That was followed by an insurance touchdown from sophomore safety Donnell Lewis, who returned a 43-yard fumble for a touchdown with 42 seconds left when junior defensive end Ryan Delaire sacked quarterback Lyle Negron to force a fumble.
Game 6: Towson 44, New Hampshire 28
The Tigers were back home, entering the game as the third-ranked team in the nation. Once again, the Tigers started out slow, down 20-3 to the Wildcats in the first nine minutes. But Towson scored 41 straight points to beat UNH for the third straight season.
Athens passed for a career-high 343 yards as the Tigers shattered the school record for total offense in a single game with 731 yards. Junior wide receiver Spencer Wilkins had a big game with seven catches for 153 yards and a score. West had 28 carries for 238 yards and three touchdowns.
Game 7: Villanova 45, Towson 35
The 10-game winning streak came to an end during Homecoming at the hands of the No. 15 Wildcats. Villanova built a 21-0 first quarter lead and took advantage of three consecutive turnovers by the Tigers on the first three possessions.
Villanova quarterback John Robertson completed 17-of-18 passes for 182 yards and two scores, while rushing for 150 yards and three TDs. The Tigers did make the game close as West caught six passes for 101 yards and Athens threw for 355 yards and two touchdowns, but also had three picks.
Game 8: Towson 44, Albany 17
West ran for 183 yards and two touchdowns, but the Tigers also turned the ball over four times in a sloppy win over the Great Danes. Athens threw for 294 yards and one score but also had two picks. West ran for 183 yards and two touchdowns. Wilkins caught six passes for 129 yards, giving him four straight games with 100 yards receiving. Junior cornerback Tye Smith forced a fumble and led the Tigers with 11 tackles.
Game 9: Towson 48, Richmond 32
West was sensational with 29 carries for 272 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Tigers over the Spiders on the road. Senior linebacker Telvion Clark added a 32-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown and sophomore safety Christian Carpenter had a 34-yard interception return for the opportunistic defense.
Game 10: Delaware 32, Towson 31
This was the low point of the season as the Tigers blew a 31-10 fourth quarter lead at home to allow the Blue Hens an improbable comeback. Quarterback Trevor Sasek threw two touchdown passes and a two-point conversion in the final 48 seconds, and Delaware recovered an onside kick to stun the Tigers. This spoiled another strong game from West, who had 206 yards on 29 carries with two touchdowns.
Game 11: Towson 15, William & Mary 9
After a late-season bye, the Tigers picked themselves off the turf and found a way to beat the Tribe on the road in a defensive battle. Towson needed to make plays on defense to win its 10th straight road game. Lewis picked off a pass and had 10 tackles to lead the Tigers. West provided 157 yards for 30 carries and scored two TDs. He also become the first Tiger to rush for over 4,000 yards in his career. It was the defense that shut down the Tribe in the second half, stopping them on downs three times in Towson territory.
Game 12: Towson 28, James Madison 17
The Tigers needed to end the season on a winning note by defeating the Dukes, a team they had never beaten in the CAA. This wasn't easy; the Tigers had to grind it out at home in the regular season finale. West scored three touchdowns and ran for 100 yards to lead the Tigers to their 10th win. That mark had not been achieved since 1983. West finished the season with 1,865 yards and 299 carries to lead the nation.
Game 13: Towson 48, Fordham 28
With the victory over the Dukes, the Tigers were awarded the seventh seed in the FCS play-offs and had a bye in the first round. Towson had never won a playoff game and the last time they hosted a team, it was a squad from the Patriot League (Lehigh).
That may not have turned out well, but this time the Tigers beat Fordham. The offense scored on four straight possessions in the second half to advance to the quarterfinals. Athens completed 13-of-15 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns. Freshman wide receiver Andre Dessenberg caught a career-high three receptions for 94 yards and a TD. Senior linebacker Monte Gaddis and Carpenter led the Tigers with 10 tackles each.
Game 14: Towson 49, Eastern Illinois 39
The Tigers had one of the toughest challenges of the play-offs after beating Fordham at home. Towson had to travel to face one of the top teams in the nation on a Friday night on the road. Towson's first play-off road game took place in the snow in Charleston, Ill. West broke the NCAA FCS play-off single-game record with 354 rushing yards on 39 carries and scored five touchdowns. Despite the snow, the Tigers' offense managed to amass 472 yards, including 80 more rushing yards by Victor against the second seed of the playoffs.
Game 15: Towson 35, Eastern Washington 31
This was an instant classic and the most important game in school history. The Tigers jumped out to a 21-0 lead against the third-seeded Eastern Washington Eagles on their red turf. Eastern Washington scored 31 unanswered points and Athens injured his throwing shoulder late in the first half on a scramble.
With 5:09 left in the game, down, 31-21, West ran it in from five yards out to cut the lead to 31-28. Towson's defense forced Eastern Washington into a turnover-on-downs on the Eagles' ensuing possession. Sophomore quarterback Connor Frazier took the team down the field in 71 yards, including the final one-yard plunge with 17 seconds left. Frazier finished with 98 yards passing and 98 yards rushing.
Game 16: North Dakota State 35, Towson 7
Towson had little margin for error against the two-time defending champion, and this time, the Tigers weren't able to overcome two key mistakes in the first half.
The Tigers tied the game at 7-7 and then D.J. Soven's 41-yard field attempt was blocked in the first half by Kyle Emmanuel and returned it to the Tigers' five-yard line. The Bison scored one play later and never threatened again as North Dakota State scored 28 unanswered points. West ran for 99 yards and 22 carries in his final game. He set NCAA FCS records with 41 rushing touchdowns and 42 scored in one season. He also set an FCS record with 2,509 yards on 413 carries this season.
The Tigers finished with a 13-3 record and managed to keep their 12-game road winning streak alive.
Towson had many incredible individual achievements from players not named West.
At quarterback, Athens threw for 3,461 yards, completing 64 percent of his passes for 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Frazier, who played quarterback, wide receiver and punter, rushed for 212 yards and two scores and caught 11 passes for 116 yards.
Victor, who may take over as the starting running back next season, ran for 629 yards on just 98 carries with seven touchdowns.
Looking ahead to 2014
The Tigers missed their top two (injured) receivers in postseason. Senior Leon Kinnard led the Tigers with 43 catches for 664 yards in just 11 games. Wilkins, who was also injured, caught 40 passes for 691 yards and four TDs in nine games.
Towson also returns junior Brian Dowling, a transfer from UMass, who caught 32 passes for 419 yards. Junior Derrick Joseph caught 36 passes for 379 yards and also had two kick returns for touchdowns this year.
Defensively, Clark had a sensational season with 145 tackles, 4.5 sacks, five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Gaddis added 124 tackles and two interceptions.
Junior cornerback Tye Smith should be a leader of the secondary next season after intercepting two passes, breaking up 12 and recording 103 tackles.
Lewis added 95 tackles, four interceptions, nine pass breakups, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Carpenter added 98 tackles, four picks and two fumble recoveries.
Towson also returns their sack leader in Delaire, who had 11.5 this season, while junior Drew Cheripko is also back after recording six sacks and 47 tackles.
Sophomore linebacker Bryton Barr, who played just two games due to injury, should return as an anchor of a young linebacking unit. The co-captain had 10 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in just two games before suffering a season-ending injury.
The offseason has finally arrived and before you know it, spring football will be here with many positions up for grabs. Nobody will forget that Towson left no doubt in the 2013 season and raised the bar for the future of this program.