Second-half comeback sends Towson to FCS title game
Cheney, WA (SportsNetwork.com) - It wasn't the snow that cooled off the Inferno in the fourth quarter of Saturday's FCS semifinal match between Eastern Washington and Towson.
Seventh-seeded Towson's last-minute touchdown scored by substitute quarterback Connor Frazier on a 1-yard keeper gave the Tigers a 35-31 victory and sent the program to its first national title game appearance, and ended the No. 3 seed Eagles' season.
The Tigers (13-2) will face two-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State (14-0) in the championship game on Jan. 4 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
"First of all, I'm extremely proud of my guys - players and staff," Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. "Losing the quarterback (Pether Athens) who has won as many games as he has and who was playing as well as he was playing was probably a little bit of a shock to everybody. Couple that with the fact that Eastern Washington is an amazing football team, it was a monumental challenge, especially emotionally.
"Belief, faith, love, trust, hard work are all pretty powerful things and when you put them all together, and when you do, you can accomplish things that people told you that you couldn't do, no matter what the adversity is. It's a proud day to be a Tiger."
Frazier was in the game after the senior Athens went down with a shoulder injury in the second quarter. Athens returned to the game a few plays after the injury occurred, but came back out for the second half in a sling and street clothes.
The absence of Athens helped the Eagles, who trailed 21-7 at the start of the third quarter. They scored 24 second-half points and 31 unanswered in all to jump ahead, 31-21, on the red turf that they call the Inferno.
That's when Towson battled back.
Terrance West scored on a 3-yard carry with just over five minutes left to play to give the Tigers their first points since early in the second quarter. It was West's second rushing score of the game, and 40th of the 2013 season (his 41 total touchdowns are a new FCS record). He finished the semifinal matchup with 119 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries.
"What records? The main goal is the national championship," West said. "That's the team goal and that's what we came here to do. We didn't come here for my records."
Eagles quarterback Vernon Adams was extremely efficient in the second half, and finished with 394 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception. But on a fourth down deep in Towson territory with over a minute left to play in the contest, Adams overthrew a wide-open Cooper Kupp. What would have been an easy score for Kupp and a game-clincher actually gave the Tigers the ball back on their own 29-yard line.
Frazier, who didn't attempt a second-half pass until the final drive, was 5- for-5 on Towson's game-winning drive, and scored the winning touchdown with 17 seconds left.
"It felt pretty comfortable. It just seemed like we were clicking really well on that drive," Frazier said. "People were finding ways to get open and the line did a great job protecting me the whole drive."
The Eagles got the ball back on their own 27-yard line with 12 seconds to play. Adams heaved up a long pass downfield, which was intercepted by Tigers defensive back Christian Carpenter at Towson's 24-yard line.
"I know the end result is not what your ultimate goal is, but in terms of the way the players competed, stayed together, fought, scrapped and left it on the field, it was all out there," Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin said. "Everyone in that locker room is hurting, but should hold their heads up high."
Towson, from the Colonial Athletic Association, finished the regular season 10-2 and garnered an at-large bid to the postseason as the seventh seed. In two consecutive weeks, the Tigers have knocked off No. 2 Eastern Illinois and No. 3 Eastern Washington on the road. They have won 12 consecutive road games.
Frazier finished 6-of-10 passing for 98 yards, and carried the ball 18 times for 98 yards and a touchdown.
Towson jumped ahead of Eastern Washington, 21-0, on two Athens touchdown passes. The first went to fullback Emmanuel Holder early, then a costly fumble by Kupp was recovered by the Tigers, who marched down the field and scored again, this time on a 1-yard West run.
West leaped over the line, was hit in mid air and spun around, but managed to hang onto the football to secure a two-score lead for Towson. In the second quarter, Athens hit Brian Dowling on a 38-yard touchdown strike to put the Tigers up by three touchdowns.
Eastern scored just minutes later when Adams found a wide-open Forte in the corner of the end zone, which finally put the Eagles on the board.
At the end of the first half, Eastern Washington had several chances at a score from the Towson 1-yard line. Multiple runs yielded no points, and with no timeouts left, Adams tried to sneak a QB keeper in on third down. Towson stuffed Adams shy of the goal line, and the Eagles didn't have enough time to run another play. The stop preserved Towson's two-touchdown lead at halftime.
West had 82 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries midway through the contest, while Athens was 8-of-9 passing for 144 yards and two scores - his final stats. Adams completed 14-of-19 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown through the first two quarters - six to Kupp for 95 yards.
It was Kupp's first game this season without a touchdown reception, ending his streak at 14 games with a touchdown grab. The Jerry Rice Award winner as freshman of the year set new FCS records in freshman touchdown receptions (21), total receptions (93) and receiving yards (1,691). He ended the game with 124 yards on eight receptions.
12/21 19:57:05 ET