BATON ROUGE, La. – In a game in which they were decisive underdogs, the Towson University Tigers (2-2) gave national powerhouse Louisiana State (5-0) all it could handle before No. 3 LSU pulled out a 38-22 victory in front of an anxious crowd at Tiger Stadium on Saturday evening in Death Valley.
Towson was expecting to play before a crowd of more than 90,000 fans in Tiger Stadium, one of the most historic venues in college football. However, an all-day rain kept many of the die-hards at home. The Tiger Stadium crowd was an announced 92,154 but the stadium was barely half-full.
Those fans that did show up were almost witness to a historic upset.
Towson controlled the ball for 34:42 and had more first downs (19-18) than LSU. Towson also forced three turnovers and outgained LSU on the ground, 188 to 158 yards. The Towson defense also recorded a season high four quarterback sacks.
“I am extremely conflicted,” said Towson Coach Rob Ambrose. “I hate losing. I know everybody who watches this or sees the score will think I’m insane, considering who we played. I don’t care. You don’t line up to lose.
“With that being said, as a head coach, as an alum, as a father, I don’t think it’s humanly possible for me to be more proud of these players.”
After Towson won the opening coin toss and elected to defer, LSU drove to the Towson 39-yard line where the drive stalled. After Brad Wing’s punt went for a touchback, Towson took over at its own 20-yard line and was forced to punt. Sophomore punter R.J. Peppers came up with a 54-yard punt, pinning LSU back at its 22-yard line.
But, senior wide receiver Russell Shepard lined up in the backfield, took the ball on a draw play, and ran to his right and down the near sideline. He outran Tiger defensive back Jordan Love to the end zone for a 78-yard touchdown run. LSU took a 7-0 lead with 10:24 remaining in the first quarter.
After that 78-yard run, the Towson defense stiffened and forced a punt on the next series. With 2:09 left in the first quarter, Towson got the first break of the game. Kenny Hillard fumbled at the LSU 38-yard line and senior safety Jordan Dangerfield recovered for Towson.
Behind the running of sophomore Terrance West, Towson moved the ball deep into LSU territory. Facing fourth down-and-one at the LSU four-yard line, Ambrose elected to try for the first down. However, a false start penalty pushed the ball back to the LSU nine-yard line. Junior place kicker D.J. Soven calmly booted a 26-yard field and Towson was on the scoreboard, trailing by 7-3 in the second quarter.
With 12:09 left in the half, the Towson defense was tested once again when LSU recovered a fumble at the Towson 36-yard line. But LSU had to settle for a 51-yard field goal attempt by Drew Alleman. It was wide right and the lead remained at 7-3.
Midway through the second quarter, sophomore cornerback Tye Smith sacked LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger at the LSU 48-yard line. Mettenberger fumbled and linebacker Bryton Barr recovered at the LSU 45-yard line.
Facing third-and-nine at the LSU 44, Tiger quarterback Grant Enders kept the ball on a quarterback draw and ran all the way down to the LSU one-yard line. On the next play, West scored his sixth touchdown of the season to give Towson an improbable 9-7 lead with 5:15 left in the half. However, Soven’s extra point was no good and the lead remained at 9-7.
LSU responded with its best drive of the night. A 27-yard pass completion from Mettenberger to Chase Clement moved the ball to the Towson 41-yard line. Two plays later, Mettenberger hooked up with sophomore Odell Beckham for a 27-yard touchdown pass to put LSU ahead, 14-9.
With slightly more than two minutes left in the half, a shanked punt gave LSU outstanding field position at the Towson 22-yard line. Once again, the Towson defense kept LSU out of the end zone and Alleman had to settle for a 23-yard field goal, giving the home team a 17-9 lead at halftime.
On the first play of the third quarter, Enders completed a 22-yard pass to senior Tom Ryan. That started a Towson drive which stalled in LSU territory as Towson was penalized for a false start. Soven came on to try a 53-yard field goal but it was short and LSU took over.
LSU moved the ball to the Towson 12-yard line where the Bayou Tigers turned the ball over again. Dangerfield forced a fumble and Frank Beltre recovered. But, Towson couldn’t move the ball and LSU took over at the Towson 44-yard line.
Once again, the Towson defense came up with some big plays. Ben Chroniger and Smith each recorded sacks and LSU was forced to punt. But, LSU received a huge break when Love fumbled and LSU recovered at the Towson eight-yard line. Three plays later, J.C. Copeland scored on a one-yard run and LSU’s lead was 24-7.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Mettenberger threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Beckham, upping the lead to 31-9.
Once again, Towson responded. A 17-yard run by Enders gave Towson a first down inside LSU territory. With 8:58 remaining, West scored his second touchdown of the game to cut the deficit to 31-16.
But LSU marched 71 yards in nine plays as Michael Ford’s four-yard TD run put LSU ahead, 38-16.
Trailing by 38-16, Towson’s offense went back to work. Enders led Towson on an 80-yard drive which resulted in a nine-yard touchdown pass to senior Gerrard Sheppard with 1:30 remaining. The conversion kick failed and Towson trailed by 38-22.
When LSU recovered the short kick, the home team was content to run out the clock.
Enders led Towson with 189 yards of total offense. He ran for a career high 86 yards on 12 carries as he scrambled past LSU defenders most of the night. Enders also completed 13 of 33 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. West ran for 79 yards on 22 attempts and scored a pair of touchdowns. West has scored seven touchdowns in four games.
Junior linebacker Telvion Clark led the Towson defense with 11 tackles and a forced fumble. Smith made 10 tackles, including two sacks. He also broke up a pass and forced a fumble.
Towson returns to Colonial Athletic Association action next week when the Tigers visit James Madison.