DURHAM, N.C. – Junior Terrance West ran for 139 yards on 31 carries and scored two touchdowns as the No. 4 Tigers (4-0) avoided an upset bid by North Carolina Central (2-2) and won their eighth game in a row, a 35-17 victory over the Eagles at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Tigers, who had outscored their opponents by a 132-33 margin in their first three games, didn’t clinch the win over North Carolina Central until freshman Darius Victor scored on a 10-yard run with 1:35 remaining in the game.
“We got a wake-up call,” admitted Coach Rob Ambrose. “We made more mistakes today than we did in our first three games. Nobody on our team played well and the players all know it. We won this game because we stayed together as a team and worked together. But we did enough to win and now we’re 4-0.”
The Tigers’ eight-game winning streak is the third-longest winning streak in school history. The Tigers are off to their first 4-0 start since 1986.
In the first quarter, the Tigers got the message that this game was not going to be a comfortable win as neither team scored.
Late in the first quarter, North Carolina Central put together its best drive of the game. The Eagles reached the Towson 13-yard line. However, junior Ryan Delaire sacked quarterback Jordan Reid for an eight-yard loss to the 21-yard line. Then, junior kicker Oleg Parent missed a 38-yard field goal and the game remained scoreless.
The Tigers took possession at their own 21-yard line. When Leon Kinnard made a pair of clutch receptions on third down, the Tigers moved into Eagles’ territory. The Tigers grabbed a 7-0 lead when quarterback Peter Athens completed a 9-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end James Oboh. The Tigers, who marched 79 yards in 13 plays, led with 6:39 left in the first half.
After the Tigers forced a punt, the Eagles got the first break of the game when the punt inadvertently hit Ryan Mays and Tre Smith recovered at the Towson 23-yard line. On the second play after the turnover, Reid found a wide-open Marvin Poole open in the right corner of the end zone for a 21-yard TD pass that tied the game at 7-7.
On their next possession, Athens hooked up with Kinnard on three clutch more third down conversions as the Tigers reached the Eagles’ 45-yard line. At that point, Athens lofted a long pass to freshman Andre Dessenberg, who made an acrobatic catch at the one-yard line. Two plays later, West scored his 10th touchdown of the season to give the Tigers a 14-7 lead with 47 seconds left in the half.
The Eagles took advantage of a short kickoff and took over at their own 43-yard line. With the help of a 22-yard pass to Tyron Harris and a 15-yard pass interference penalty, the Eagles reached the Towson 15-yard line. When Parent converted a 33-yard field goal, the Tigers owned a 14-10 lead at halftime.
West, who was held to 37 yards on 18 carries in the first half, broke out of it in the second half. He picked up 102 yards on 13 carries after intermission.
The Tigers received the opening kickoff of the second half and promptly marched 67 yards in four plays. Athens got the drive started by completing a 27-yard pass to Brian Dowling. Three plays later, West scampered for 22 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown to give Towson a 21-10 lead with 13:18 left in the third quarter. It was his 11th touchdown of the season and the 55th of his career.
On the next possession, the Tiger defense forced a punt. After Dowling made a fair catch at the Tigers’ 14-yard line, Athens led another impressive drive. Towson drove 86 yards in 12 plays before first-year freshman Darius Victor scored on a four-yard run to give the Tigers a 28-10 lead. On the drive, Victor had three carries for 32 yards.
But the upset-minded Eagles came right back. With the help of two 15-yard penalties against Towson, the Eagles reached the Towson 40-yard line. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Reid completed a 40-yard touchdown pass to Thomas Dixon to cut the Tigers’ lead to 28-17.
On their next possession, the Eagles moved to their own 38-yard line before junior safety Thomas Bradley intercepted a pass and returned it to the Tigers’ 47-yard line. However, the Tigers turned the ball over on downs at the North Carolina Central 45-yard line.
Once again, the Tiger defense forced a punt and the Tigers started their next possession at their own 20-yard line. After the Tigers reached their 48-yard line, Athens was called for a questionablle intentional grounding penalty which moved them back 12 yards. On the next play, Athens threw a deep pass to Spencer Wilkins. But, Michael Jones intercepted at the Eagles’ 28-yard line.
It was only the second interception of the season for Athens and the first time he was intercepted in 91 attempts.
However, North Carolina Central went nowhere and turned the ball over on downs with 5:36 remaining. But, the Tigers couldn’t move the ball and gave it back to the Eagles with 3:25 left at their 33-yard line.
With 2:30 remaining, the Tigers took possession at the Eagles’ 19-yard line. After running for nine yards on first down, Victor clinched the victory with a 10-yard touchdown run with 1:35 remaining, upping the lead to 35-17.
Junior cornerback Tye Smith, who played scholastically at Wakefield High School in nearby Raleigh, led the Tiger defense with eight tackles, including a sack and one pass breakup. Bradley made seven tackles and intercepted a pass.
The Tiger defense recorded a seasonal high six sacks. Delaire made four tackles, including two sacks. He also tipped two passes at the line of scrimmage and recorded two quarterback hits.
Despite allowing a seasonal high 17 points, the Tiger defense held the Eagles to 294 yards of offense and only two rushing yards.
Athens completed 20 of 33 passes for a career high 252 yards and a touchdown. Kinnard led the Tigers with a career high seven catches for 102 yards while Dessenberg caught two passes for 61 yards.
Led by West and Victor, the Tigers ran for 192 yards on 44 plays.
The Tigers open Colonial Athletic Association play next Saturday night when they visit Stony Brook.