By PETE SCHLEHR
Opening our football season on the road has produced its moments and certainly contributed some interesting memories.
I can recall 13 road openers. The two before I climbed on board in 1976 saw the Tigers get smacked 49-6 at Central Connecticut in 1971. In 1974 the Tigers downed Mansfield State, 15-12, on the road to start them on their way to the program's only unbeaten season (10-0).
The quality of the opponent has certainly changed. This Thursday night (7:30 p.m.) the Tigers kick off their 42nd season of collegiate football against a third straight BCS school in the form of the Big Ten's Indiana University. Last year it was Northwestern. In 2008 the Tigers were hosted by Navy in Annapolis. Next year Towson takes on its big sister, Maryland, in College Park.
Not exactly Washington & Lee or Gallaudet.
The Tigers are 4-9 in the road lidlifters I've covered over the years. Here's what I remember about them.
1976: QUEEN ANNE, Md. - Towson was launching its 8th year of football against a Maryland Eastern Shore opponent that had produced such NFL stars as Emerson Boozer, Roger Brown, Earl Christy, Carl Hairston, Sherman Plunkett, Johnny Sample, Art Shell and Charlie Stukes when the institution was known as Maryland State. The Tigers brushed that legend stuff aside and blanked UMES 30-0. Dan Dullea tossed a couple of TD passes and Randy Bielski booted three field goals. It was one of five shut outs for the 10-3 Tigers as they went on to the NCAA Division III playoffs. They advanced all the way to the national championship game, played in the Stagg Bowl, where they lost 31-28 to St. John's on a last second field goal.
1980: BALTIMORE, Md. - This opener ended in one of the most disappointing moments in Towson's football history. The Tigers, in just their second year of NCAA Division II competition, had the vaunted Morgan State Bears on the ropes. Sean Landeta's 38-yard field and Ron Meehan's one yard quarterback sneak had given Towson a 10-7 lead. With time winding down, the Tigers' goal line stand had stopped the Bears at the Towson one-yard line with nine ticks left on the clock, seemingly preserving a TU victory. On the ensuing play the Tigers lost the ball when a fumbled exchange on the center snap was recovered by the Bears at the line of scrimmage. From there Jerome Fields had little trouble scoring the game winner with six seconds left to give Morgan a stunning 14-10 win. The year before Morgan beat the Tigers in the season opener. Towson then went 9-0 to finish out the year. The 14-10 loss to open 1980 stopped the nation's longest Division II winning streak. Jeff Boller, arguably the finest linebacker ever at Towson, had a career high 18 tackles.
1987: BOSTON, Mass - Northeastern spoiled the Tigers' Division I-AA debut and negated an outstanding effort by freshman quarterback Chris Goetz. The Huskies jumped off to a 10-0 lead but Goetz rallied the Tigers for 22 second quarter points and a halftime lead. The Huskies shut out Towson the rest of the way, scoring 29 second half points for a 39-22 victory. Goetz, who would be four-year starter for Towson, threw for 320 yards. His 82-yard TD toss to wide receiver Dale Chipps was a program record for the longest completion.
1989: BOSTON, Mass - Pretty much a nondescript opener with similar results for Northeastern. The Tigers had several opportunities to erase the deficit but miscues hurt them. The Huskies hung on for a 20-17 win despite Chris Goetz completing 20 of 27 passes for 262 yards. A guy by the name of Mike Locksley made four tackles for the Tigers from his safety position. Mike went on to coach at Maryland, Florida and Illinois before being named head coach at the University of New Mexico in 2008.
1990: KINGSTON, R.I. - A very young Towson team ran into a very experienced Rhode Island gang. The Rams bolted to a 33-7 halftime lead and cruised to a 40-21 victory. URI racked up three TD's, a field goal and a safety in a pivotal second quarter. Tailback Robbie Jackson finished with 108 yards on 15 carries. He scored the first TD's of his collegiate career on runs of 28 and 13 yards.
1992: KINGSTON, R.I. - This was Gordy Combs' debut as Towson's head coach. For three quarters it looked as though Gordy might grab a win his first time out. But in a killer fourth quarter the Rams scored three TD's and added two points on a blocked extra point attempt for a final 36-19 URI victory. The game marked the debut of record-setting running back Tony Vinson, a transfer from Purdue who would set many school and NCAA rushing records in his two seasons at Towson. Later he would be drafted by the San Diego Chargers and play briefly with the Baltimore Ravens before his career ended. On the Rams' side of the ball, the Tigers had trouble stopping Darren Rizzi, an All-American tight end who caught a 55-yard TD pass. Rizzi would return to URI in 2007 as its 18th head football coach. He is currently in his second year as an assistant coach with the Miami Dolphins.
1996: INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - This marked the Tigers' longest trip in a season opener up to that point. It was worth the trek as the Tigers ran for 315 yards with Maurice Sydnor gaining 173 yards on 25 carries in a 14-3 Towson victory. Maurice, by the way, is one of just three Tigers to return a kickoff for a touchdown. He joins Mike Barth and David Meggett. Maurice returned two kickoffs for TD's in his collegiate career. The year before, in 1995, he took one back against a visiting Butler team to mark the last kickoff return TD for Towson. The Tigers are entering their 15th year since a kickoff was returned for six points by a Towson player. The offensive coordinator for the Tigers that year was their current head coach Rob Ambrose.
2000: BRONX, N.Y. - By the middle of the second quarter the Tigers had fumbled five times and lost three of them, falling behind 13-10 to Fordham. But from there it was all Towson as the Tigers tallied 26 unanswered points to beat the Rams 36-13 in a Patriot League contest. The 36 points remain the most scored by Towson in a season opener on the road. The hero of the game was backup tailback Ray Harris who rushed for 120 yards on 8 carries, a 15.0 average per carry. He scored on runs of 68 and 34 yards. Safety Sporty Evans returned an interception 62 yards for a TD. Also seeing action that day was backup quarterback Brian Fleury who returned to Towson two years ago as a member of coach Rob Ambrose's staff. Brian coaches the Tigers' secondary this season.
2001: ALBANY, N.Y. - Albany scored with 1:40 left in the game to come from behind and hand the Tigers a 14-10 setback. Six turnovers (3 lost fumbles and 3 interceptions) were tough to overcome. The Tigers lost the war but won the statistics battle, piling up 458 yards to just 212 for the Danes. That would be Towson's highest total offense of the entire season. Rusty McKinney posted a career high 14 tackles for the Tigers.
2003: BALTIMORE, Md. - Towson built a 10-0 lead but couldn't hold it as Morgan State scored all its points in the second half on the way to a 19-16 victory over the Tigers in this crosstown rivalry. It was Morgan's first win over Towson on the Bears' home turf since 1980when the Tigers fumbled the ball away at their own one-yard line allowing the Bears to punch in the game winner with six ticks left on the clock.
2004: ELON, N.C. - The Tigers jumped on the Phoenix early, bolting to a 27-0 halftime lead and went on to beat Elon 34-13. The back breaker was Allante Harrison's 45 yard interception return for a TD with just three seconds left in the first half. Freshman Bryan Bradford led all Towson tacklers with 11 stops.
2008: ANNAPOLIS, Md. - This was Towson's first encounter with a FBS/BCS (Division I-A) opponent. The Midshipmen had been beaten in the past by such FCS (Division I-AA) Colonial Athletic Association upstarts as Delaware, James Madison and William & Mary. Navy wasn't about to take the Tigers lightly which didn't bode well for Towson. Shun White set a Navy single game rushing record when he ran for 348 yards on just 19 carries to lead the Middies to a 41-13 win. The Tigers cut the deficit to 21-13 as Sean Schaefer tossed TD passes to Casey Cegles and Marcus Lee but that's close as they would come.
2009: EVANSTON, Ill. - Northwestern spoiled Rob Ambrose's debut as Towson's head coach, building to a 30-0 lead on the way to a 47-14 victory over the Tigers. The loss was in keeping with the tradition. No previous Towson head football coach had won his first game either: Carl Runk bowed to W&L 14-13, Phil Albert was beaten 40-14 by Central Connecticut and Gordy Combs lost at Rhode Island 36-19.