College Football: Towson runs over Wildcats, 64-35
DURHAM - That one hurt. In a big way.
Towson pounded No. 7-ranked New Hampshire in the second half to break open a close game and win going away, 64-35, in front of 5,531 at Cowell Stadium on Saturday, spoiling Senior Day and a few other Wildcat plans.
UNH's six-game winning streak and 10-game streak of Cowell triumphs crashed to an end and the Wildcats fell to 8-3 overall and 6-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association.
It was UNH's first loss since a wild 64-61 defeat at Old Dominion in the fourth game of the season on Sept. 22.
This one felt worse than the ODU loss, said senior linebacker and captain Alan Buzbee.
"In terms of disappointment, it's way worse," Buzbee said. "On Senior Day, at home, an opportunity to win the conference championship. It's basically thrown in your face when you get 64 on you. It's not a good feeling."
The Wildcats were looking to win their first outright league championship since 1994, clinch the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision tournament and perhaps even earn a home game for the second round of the playoffs, all of which they would have accomplished with a win.
Instead, they must settle for a share of the CAA title and hope to receive an at-large bid to the 20-team tournament.
They likely will still get a bid, but they left the decision in the hands of an NCAA committee and will have to wait until a selection show on ESPNU at 1:30 this afternoon to find out their fate. There was a chance they could still get the league's automatic bid, which was to be determined by a tiebreaker late Saturday night.
"I think we should (get in)," said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. "I think we're one of the top 20 teams in the country and I thought we did it throughout the whole year the way we played. Just hope these guys get another opportunity to play."
Towson, which came in ranked No. 19, improved to 7-4 overall and also finished 6-2 for a share of the league title. The Tigers made their case for making the tournament by taking complete control of the game after halftime.
"Never in my wildest did I figure it would get away the way it did today," McDonnell said. "But it did."
Down 30-14 with 6:36 left in the first half after Towson turned a Chris Setian fumble on a kickoff return into a Dominique Booker 37-yard touchdown run in one play, UNH rallied to close the gap at the break.
Tight end Brian Ciccone scored on an 18-yard pass from Andy Vailas, the sophomore out of Bedford and Bishop Guertin of Nashua, and a conversion pass from Vailas to R.J. Harris cut it to 30-22 with 3:52 left in the half.
On the last play of the half, Towson tried a 44-yard field goal, Jared Smith got a hand on it, and UNH's Steven Thames grabbed the ball and ran 65 yards into the end zone. Another conversion pass failed, leaving it 30-28 at halftime.
The closing minutes of the first half, said Towson coach Rob Ambrose, could not have gone worse for his team.
The second half could not have gone much worse for UNH.
The Tigers got a first down by inches on a 3rd and 8 on its own 16-yard line to open the second half and then sophomore Terrance West, who had a monster game, gashed UNH for 41 yards.
Senior quarterback Grant Enders closed the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. Towson had the first points of what would be 27 straight and the lead was up to 37-28.
"That first drive of the second half was huge," McDonnell said. "They go right down and score."
UNH had no answer for that one. Nor for much else in the second half.
"They were bringing a lot of different pressures and different types of blitzes," said senior offensive lineman and captain Chris Zarkoskie. "We had seen them all on tape and they were heating us up pretty good in the second half and we couldn't find any momentum. Everywhere on the offense we were shooting ourselves in the foot in the second half."
On defense, the Wildcats missed way too many tackles and weren't getting enough guys to the ball, McDonnell said.
West, who had 261 rushing yards in a 56-42 win over UNH last year, carried 19 times for 236 yards and a pair of scores.
Vailas was UNH's leading rusher with eight carries for 108 yards and two touchdowns. He raced 77 yards down the left sideline on the first play from scrimmage to get the game off to a good start for the Wildcats.
The finish didn't go nearly as well.
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NOTES: The Tigers had a whopping 415 rushing yards and 660 yards of offense total. ... UNH had 345 yards of offense, only 95 of them coming after halftime. ... Sophomore Nico Steriti carried 12 times for 63 yards for UNH. ... Senior linebacker Matt Evans led UNH with 12 tackles. ... UNH lost two fumbles and redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Goldrich, who split time with Vailas, threw an interception..