WILLIAMSBURG, Va. - Facing the top-ranked defense in the Colonial Athletic Association, the Tigers (6-1, 4-0) scored on their first four possessions and built a 28-10 second quarter lead en route to a 38-27 CAA victory over No. 14 William & Mary (4-4, 2-3) before a Homecoming crowd of 12,259 at Zable Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The victory continued the Tigers' amazing turnaround as they beat a nationally-ranked opponent for the fourth time this season. The win also enabled the Tigers to remain tied for first place in the CAA with No. 9 Maine (6-1, 4-0).
It was also the Tigers' first win over William & Mary in eight meetings. The Tigers, who were 1-10 last season, have a 6-1 record for their best start as an NCAA Division I-AA (FCS) program. This is the Tigers' best seven-game record since 1986, their final season as an NCAA Division II team.
William & Mary came into the game allowing only 17.7 points per contest, a total the Tigers surpassed early in the second quarter.
"This is a tremendous team victory," said Coach Rob Ambrose. "We have injuries but our guys keep rising up. We beat a very good football team today. They have tremendous tradition and a Hall of Fame coach (Jimmye Laycock). Plus, (Jonathan) Grimes is amazing. Even though we were winning, we knew they would keep battling.
"At halftime, I told our team to get ready because they were going to come out swinging," he added.
Although the Tigers never trailed after the first eight minutes, they weren't assured of a victory until linebacker Alexander DiSanzo intercepted a pass at the Tigers' three-yard line with 15 seconds remaining.
The Tribe had cut its deficit to 35-27 with 8:08 left when Drake Kuhn booted a 30-yard field goal.
However, the Tigers responded with a time-consuming 75-yard, 13-play drive. They marched down to the Tribe's three-yard line where they faced fourth-and-one with 3:21 remaining. Ambrose passed up a field goal try and went for the first down. Sophomore quarterback Grant Enders ran up the middle and picked up the first down. With a first-and-goal at the one-yard line, the Tigers still couldn't score a touchdown. However, they did force the Tribe to use its final time outs. When sophomore D.J. Soven kicked a 19-yard field goal, the Tigers owned a 38-27 lead with 2:04 left.
After the Tribe reached the Tigers' four-yard line, DiSanzo settled the issue with his interception.
The Tribe opened the game with a very impressive drive. Grimes, the leading rusher in school history, led the Tribe on a 61-yard drive that resulted in a 21-yard field goal by Kuhn. The Tribe had second down-and-goal at the one-yard line before Marcus Valentine stopped Grimes. Then, Rob Osborne teamed up with Arnold Farmer to throw Grimes for a loss on third down.
Trailing 3-0, the Tigers took a lead they never relinquished on their first possession. Facing third-and-eight at the Tigers' 48-yard line, Enders hooked up with junior Tom Ryan on a 50-yard pass play that gave Towson a first down at the two-yard line. On the next play, freshman Terrance West scored on a two-yard run. Soven's conversion kick gave the Tigers a 7-3 lead.
Moments later, an interception by sophomore Corey Ford off a tipped pass gave the Tigers great field position at the Tribe's 35-yard line. Two plays later, Enders completed a short pass to tight end James Oboh, who ran it into the end zone for a 31-yard touchdown pass. That gave Towson a 14-3 lead with 5:54 left in the first quarter.
After forcing a punt, the Tigers started their third possession at their own 18-yard line. A 21-yard run by West and a spectacular one-handed catch for 22 yards by Gerrard Sheppard (right) moved the ball into William & Mary territory. On the second play of the second quarter, West scored his second touchdown on a two-yard run.
Trailing by 21-3, the Tribe marched 58 yards in nine plays to get back in the game. Quarterback Michael Graham capped off the drive by completing a 13-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Mangas.
The Tigers responded with their fourth straight touchdown drive. They marched 72 yards in ten plays. West's third touchdown of the game, on a six-yard run, put the Tigers up by 28-10 with 5:12 left in the half. But, the Tribe came right back and scored on a one-yard run by Grimes with 21 seconds left in the half, making it a 28-17 game at halftime.
Midway through the third quarter, the Tigers staged their most impressive drive of the game. They marched 88 yards on 14 plays in 7:44. Senior fullback Tyler Wharton made the two biggest plays on the drive. With the Tigers facing fourth down-and-seven at the Tribe 46-yard line, they lined up in punt formation. Wharton took the direct snap and ran eight yards for an important first down.
Six plays later, Wharton caught a three-yard touchdown pass from Enders to up the Tigers' lead to 35-17.
Once again, the Tribe responded. William & Mary marched 67 yards in ten plays to pull within 35-24 with 13:32 remaining in the game. When Graham tried to pass to Mangas in the end zone, the ball was tipped by Ford and landed in Mangas' hands for a touchdown.
On the Tigers' next possession, cornerback Jabrel Mines intercepted a pass at the Tigers' 39-yard line, giving the Tribe an excellent opportunity to cut into their deficit. When the Tribe reached the 17-yard line, Justin Harris broke up a pass on first down. After Grimes rushed for four yards, Graham's third down pass to Ryan Moody was broken up by Ford. That forced the Tribe to try for a field goal. Kuhn's 30-yard kick made it 35-27. But the Tribe never got any closer.
"Winning back-to-back road games against nationally-ranked CAA teams says a lot about our team," said Ambrose. "It will be great to get back home next week."
West led the Tigers as he ran for 141 yards on 23 carries with three touchdowns. It was his third straight 100-yard rushing game.
Enders completed 15 of 21 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns.
DiSanzo led the Tiger defense with a career high ten tackles and an interception. Kenton Powell added nine tackles.
The Tigers were able to overcome an impressive effort by Grimes. He ran the ball 30 times for 133 yards and scored one touchdown. He finished the game with 315 all-purpose yards.
Towson returns home to host Delaware next Saturday night at Johnny Unitas® Stadium.