TOWSON, Md. – One of 14 seniors playing in his final college home game, running back Dominique Booker ran for a career high 181 yards on seven carries and scored on an 83-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second half as the No. 17 Tigers (6-4, 5-2) kept their Colonial Athletic Association championship hopes alive with a 41-10 CAA victory over the University of Rhode Island (0-10, 0-7) at Minnegan Field at Johnny Unitas® Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The defending CAA champion Tigers, who have won three games in a row, will be playing for a chance at sharing the CAA title when they visit New Hampshire (8-2, 6-1) in the regular season finale next week.
While Booker helped the Tigers rush for 260 yards, senior quarterback Grant Enders completed 19 of 28 passes for 231 yards and matched his career high with four touchdown passes. He did not throw an interception.
For the second game in a row, Towson did not turn the ball over.
“It’s humbling and an honor to coach players like this,” said Towson Coach Rob Ambrose. “With one week left in the season, we are alive and swinging for the conference championship. Considering our schedule and the way we started, this is quite an achievement.”
Although the Tigers cruised to the win, they did have to come from behind. Rhode Island grabbed a 7-0 lead on its first possession of the game. On the opening drive of the game, Rhode Island surprised the Tigers by marching 75 yards in nine plays to take a 7-0 lead when junior quarterback Bob Bentsen threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to senior Brandon Johnson-Farrell.
However, it took the Tigers only three plays to tie the score. On the first play, Booker ran around the right end for a 24-yard gain to the Rams’ 40-yard line. That enabled Booker to become the 22nd player in school history to rush for 1,000 yards. After Enders completed a 12-yard pass to senior Tom Ryan, he threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Cory Kirby to tie the game at 7-7 with 9:30 left in the first half.
After the Tiger defense forced a URI punt, the Tigers drove to the Rams’ 22-yard line where they were forced to settle for a 39-yard field goal attempt by junior D.J. Soven. His field goal try was wide left and the score remained tied.
Early in the second quarter, Enders finished off a 63-yard, 12-play drive with a three-yard touchdown pass to Gerrard Sheppard. But Soven missed the extra point and the Tigers owned a 13-7 lead with 9:21 left in the second quarter.
On their next possession, the Tiger defense came up with a huge stop that turned the game around. The Rams had first down-and-goal at the Towson two-yard line but the defense held and the Rams had to settle for a 19-yard field goal by sophomore Dylan Smith, cutting their deficit to 13-10.
Towson responded with a 74-yard, eight-play drive that resulted in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Enders to Ryan, giving the Tigers a 20-10 halftime lead.
The Tigers broke the game open in the third quarter.
On the opening play of the second half, Booker ran the ball to the left side, broke several tackles and spinned and ran his way for an 83-yard touchdown. It was the second-longest touchdown run in school history, a mark topped only by Jason Corle’s 84-yard TD run against Wagner in 1996.
Leading by 34-10, the Tigers increased their lead to 34-10 when Enders threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game, an 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end James Oboh.
With 14:27 left in the game, freshman Clayton Minnott scored on a one-yard run to up the lead to 41-10. His touchdown run capped off a 92-yard, 10-play drive.
Once the Tigers owned a 41-10 advantage, Coach Ambrose emptied the bench as the Tigers went on to post the win.
“Towson is a very good team,” said URI Coach Joe Trainer. “We were competitive for a while. But, like most good teams, they separated themselves from us in the second half. One of the differences between Towson last year and this year is that they don’t give up the big plays that they did last season.
“They are hitting on all cylinders right now,” he added. “They are playing for a lot and beating Villanova and Delaware on the road in back-to-back weeks is very impressive. I think Rob (Ambrose) may be doing a better coaching job this year than he did last year. Considering the schedule and other things, he has done a phenomenal job.”
During the Tigers’ three-game winning streak, Enders has completed 56 of 82 passes for 687 yards. He has thrown 10 touchdown passes and only one interception.
“Enders might be the best quarterback in the conference,” added Coach Trainer. “Towson has tremendous balance on offense. They have three or four guys who can catch passes and a few tight ends.”
Booker, who became the 22nd player in school history to rush for 1,000 career yards, said, “This was really an emotional day for all of us seniors since it could be the last time we all play together here. There are five of us left who were red-shirt freshmen for Coach (Gordy) Combs. So, this was a great way for us to finish up.”
While Booker led the Tigers with 181 yards on only seven carries (25.9 average), junior Sterlin Phifer added 41 yards on six carries. Ryan led all Tiger receivers with seven catches for 109 yards and one touchdown.
The Rams, who were held to 88 rushing yards and 241 yards of total offense, were led by Bentsen, who completed 17 of 28 passes for 153 yards and one touchdown.
In addition to Boateng, Booker, Dangerfield, Enders, Kirby, Ryan and Sheppard, Erron Banks, Alex Blake, Frank Beltre, Nygee Carmichael, Ben Chroniger, Matt Morgan, Nick Ranko and Romale Tucker also played in their final home game.
Towson’s win kept the Tigers alive in their competition for their second straight CAA championship. With one week remaining in the regular season, New Hampshire (8-2, 6-1) leads the CAA. Old Dominion (9-1, 6-1) is also tied for first place but the Monarchs are not eligible for the CAA title because they are moving to NCAA BCS classification next year.
The Tigers are part of a four-way tie for second place in the CAA, along with James Madison (7-3, 5-2), Richmond (7-3, 5-2) and Villanova (7-3, 5-2).
Towson visits New Hampshire next Saturday for a 12 noon game against the Wildcats.