EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – Junior Terrance West ran for 156 yards and scored two touchdowns as the Tigers (1-0) earned their first-ever win over an NCAA FBS opponent, a 33-18 victory over the University of Connecticut (0-1) in the season opener for both teams at Rentschler Field on Thursday evening.
The win especially meaningful for Coach Rob Ambrose, who served as an assistant coach at UConn for seven years.
West, who recorded the 12th 100-yard game of his career, clinched the victory when he scored on a five-yard touchdown run with 16 seconds remaining in the game. That thwarted a UConn comeback and gave Towson its first win in seven attempts against NCAA FBS opponents.
“This is important to us because we have played well against FBS teams in the past but we haven’t been able to get a victory,” said Ambrose. “We do have team goals and in order to reach those goals, we had to win tonight. It doesn’t matter who we played. We were committed to winning this game.”
The Tigers, who only trailed once in the game, took a 26-10 lead with 5:14 remaining when West scored his first touchdown of the game on a six-yard run.
However, the Huskies put together an efficient 68-yard, seven-play drive to cut the deficit to 26-18 with 5:14 left. Junior quarterback Chandler Whitmer capped off the drive by throwing a 21-yard touchdown pass to junior Shakim Phillips with 3:29 remaining. Whitmer’s two-point conversion pass to Spencer Parker kept the Huskies’ hopes alive and pulled them to within 26-18.
Making use of their timeouts, the Huskies forced a Towson punt with 2:56 remaining. However, Brian Lemelle fumbled the ball and long snapper Tanner Vallely was there to recover the ball at the UConn 30-yard line.
From there, the Tigers marched 30 yards in six plays to score the game-clinching touchdown on West’s fourth-down run.
“That was a huge play in the game,” admitted Ambrose. “An eight-point lead is dangerous. UConn has a good team and we knew they wouldn’t give up. But, we’re a pretty good team too.”
The Tigers, who used their running game to control the clock, rushed for 201 yards and had the ball for 36:23.
“We feel that the less our defense has to be on the field, the better they will play,” said Coach Ambrose.
However, the Tiger defense turned in a very strong effort when the unit was on the field. Led by senior linebacker Telvion Clark, the Tigers recorded five sacks and held UConn to 287 total yards. Meanwhile, the Tigers’ offensive line did a great job protecting senior quarterback Peter Athens, who was not sacked.
“It all starts with our offensive line,” said West, who scored the 45th and 46th touchdowns of his career in the win. “Those guys do a great job and we can’t do anything without them controlling the line of scrimmage.”
On their first possession, the Tigers drove deep into UConn territory. When Athens tried to connect with Spencer Wilkins inside the 10-yard line, Wilkins fell down and Obi Melifonwu made a diving interception at the UConn eight-yard line.
The Huskies responded with an impressive 92-yard, nine-play drive that was aided by a defensive holding penalty. Whitmer capped off the drive by throwing a 31-yard touchdown pass to Phillips in the left corner of the end zone. That gave the Huskies a 7-0 lead with 4:55 left in the first quarter.
“We weren’t concerned when they went ahead,” said Ambrose. “Last year, when we played New Hampshire in the last game of the season, UNH scored on a 78-yard run on the first play of the game. We came back and won the game comfortably.”
When junior Derrick Joseph returned the ensuing kickoff to the Towson 34-yard line, the Tigers had great field position. At that point, West broke off two terrific runs. After he ran for 16 and 23 yards on back-to-back carries, the Tigers had a first down at the UConn 27-yard line. Senior Sterlin Phifer ran for four yards on the next play. Then, Athens rolled to his right and tossed a 21-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Phifer on the right side. It was the first touchdown reception of Phifer’s career. D.J. Soven’s conversion kick tied the game at 7-7 with 2:51 remaining in the first quarter.
Midway through the second quarter, the Tigers drove inside the UConn 40-yard line. On fourth down-and-two, the Tigers gambled and tried for the first down. However, West’s run was stopped short and the Huskies took over on downs. However, on the next play, sophomore defensive tackle Jon Desir tipped Whitmer’s screen pass into the air and made a great catch for an interception to give the Tigers a first down at the UConn 29-yard line.
On the first play, Phifer ran around right end and down the sideline before being knocked out of bounds at the five-yard line. One play later, Phifer ran to the left and scored on a five-yard touchdown run to put the Tigers ahead. However, Soven’s conversion kick was no good and the Tigers owned a 13-7 lead with 7:04 left in the half.
The Huskies responded with another impressive drive. UConn reached the Towson one-yard line. But, the Huskies were stopped short on first down and second down. Then, the Huskies were penalized for an illegal substitution, pushing the ball back to the five-yard line. Whitmer’s pass to Deshon Foxx was broken up by Donnell Lewis and the Huskies had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by senior Chad Christen, cutting the deficit to 13-10 with 1:48 left in the half.
The Tigers, who ran for 116 yards in the first half, owned a 13-10 lead at halftime. West ran for 73 yards on 14 carries while Phifer picked up 42 yards on five attempts.
On their second possession of the second half, the Tigers extended their lead to 19-10. Athens directed a 95-yard, 13-play march that included a 39-yard pass completion to senior Leon Kinnard, who transferred from UConn two years ago. After a 16-yard run by West gave the Tigers a first down at the two-yard line, Athens scored on a one-yard run to give Towson a 19-10 advantage. However, Soven’s conversion kick failed once again and Towson owned a 19-10 lead with 5:09 remaining in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Huskies drove into Towson territory where they faced fourth down-and-one at the Tigers’ 33-yard line. But, Whitmer was stopped short of the first down by senior defensive tackle Arnold Farmer and the Tigers took possession at their own 33 with 13:38 left in the game.
Making the seventh start of his career, Athens completed 13 of 20 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown. Wilkins was his top receiver with five catches for 55 yards while Kinnard had four receptions for 61 yards.
While West ran for 156 yards on a career high 36 carries, Phifer picked up 39 yards on eight carries and scored a rushing touchdown as well as a receiving TD.
TIGER TALES: The crowd of 30,689 was the fifth-largest crowd to watch the Tigers play … Towson has won its last five games in a row dating back to last season … West has now scored 46 touchdowns in 22 career games … He is one TD shy of the school record set by Jason Corle, ’99 … The 15-point margin of victory is the third-largest win by a FCS team against a BCS-AQ team since 2000.