After EWU scores 31-straight points, Towson scores a touchdown with 17 seconds to play and advances to NCAA Division I championship game with 35-31 victory
In a game of inches and momentum, Towson won early and late.
A fast start and fast finish was enough for the Tigers as they rallied from 10 points behind in the fourth quarter to stun Eastern Washington University in the semifinals in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs Saturday (Dec. 21) at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.
The Eagles had scored 31-straight points, including 17 in another dominating third quarter performance. But Towson, which went scoreless for 29:19 in the game, used touchdown drives of 75 and 71 yards in the final 5:09 to overcome a 31-21 Eagle lead, including the game winner with 17 seconds left.
"Today was two great teams, and it comes down to inches sometimes," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "Definitely when you are in the semifinals."
Towson, now 13-2 after winning its 12th-straight road game, advances to the NCAA Division I Championship Game against North Dakota State on Saturday, Jan. 4 at 11 a.m. Pacific time at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. The season ended for the Eagles at 13-2, as well as the team’s 10-game winning streak.
"Anytime you finish your season when it is a win or go home situation -- especially the deeper you get -- the more it is going to hurt," said Baldwin. "You credit them, and we hold our heads up high knowing we are going to continue to come back fighting, and I am so proud of this 2013 team. I am.
"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. Everyone in that locker room is hurting, but should hold their heads up high."
The game was punctuated by near-misses throughout by the Eagles. In the first quarter alone, Eastern nearly recovered two early Towson fumbles, and had lost one of its own fumbles at the Towson 12-yard line. At the end of the first half, Eastern was stopped at the 1-yard line, inches from a touchdown.
Once the Eagle offense got untracked, it was nearly unstoppable until the end. Eastern finished with a 580-483 advantage in total offense, including a 206-19 domination in the third quarter.
Eastern failed on a fourth-and-2 play at the Towson 29-yard line with 3:34 left, which set the stage for the game-winning drive. On the fourth down play, a sure touchdown pass from quarterback Vernon Adams was just off the fingertips of wide receiver Cooper Kupp. An interception
Adams had the fifth-best passing performance in his career – and 12th with at least 300 yards -- with 390 yards on 28-of-42 passing. He had a pair of touchdown passes, finishing with 55 in 2013 to rank second in FCS history behind the record of 56 shared by Willie Totten (Mississippi Valley 1984) and Bruce Eugene (Grambling 2005).
Senior Ashton Clark had eight catches for 129 yards and Kupp, the Jerry Rice Award winner as the top freshman n FCS, had eight for 124 yards. Quincy Forte added 77 yards on the ground.
Kupp, who had caught at least one touchdown pass in each of his first 14 games as an Eagle, did not have a TD pass against Towson. But with 1,691 yards for the season, he moved from 13th to fourth in FCS history. The FCS, Big Sky and school records are 1,850 set by Eastern’s Brandon Kaufman in 2013.
Kupp owns the FCS record for receiving yards by a freshman, as well as for receptions (93) and touchdown catches (21 to rank fourth in FCS history).
The Eagle defense did a splendid job against FCS rushing and scoring leader Terrance West, who broke the single season FCS rushing yardage record early in the game. He finished with 115 yards against EWU, giving him 2,410 yards for the season and breaking the FCS record of 2,326 yards set by Jamal Branch of Colgate in 2003.
The final two touchdowns Towson scored were the first EWU allowed in the second half of three playoff games. Up until that point, EWU had out-scored opponents 65-6 in the second half in three playoff games (24-0 versus Towson, 14-3 vs. Jacksonville State, 27-3 vs. South Dakota State).
Linebacker Cody McCarthy led the Eagles with 13 tackles, and linebacker Ronnie Hamlin and safety Todd Raynes each had 11.
The Eagles fell behind early 21-0 as they went scoreless in the first quarter for only the third time this season. Eastern finally got on the board in the second quarter with a 67-yard drive on six plays, ended with an 8-yard TD pass from Adams to Forte.
Eastern exploded in the third quarter, with touchdown drives of 67 and 92 yards, and another 86-yard drive that led to a 22-yard field goal by Kevin Miller. Forte scored the first touchdown with a 7-yard run, then Mario Brown scored from 3 yards out to give EWU its first lead of the day at 24-21 with 28 seconds left in the quarter.
The Eagle defense did its part too, and the Eagles out-gained Towson 206-19 in the third period.
Eastern had a 179-53 advantage in the third quarter this season, including a dominating 130-9 margin in the last eight games. In those eight games, EWU allowed only third-quarter field goals to Idaho State on Nov. 2, South Dakota State on Dec. 7 and Jacksonville State on Dec. 14. Eastern didn’t allow a third-quarter touchdown since Oct. 12 versus North Dakota. Eastern outscored its opponent in the third quarter in 12 of 15 games, including the last 11. During EWU’s 10-game winning streak, the Eagles had a 141-17 advantage in the third.
Towson had out-scored opponents 144-34 in the third quarter this season entering the game, thus, the Eagles scored half as many points as the total the Tigers had allowed in their first 14 games.
An 82-yard TD drive to open the fourth quarter gave the Eagles a 31-21 advantage with 11:55 to play when Adams found Cory Mitchell for a 13-yard TD.
It was EWU’s first-ever meeting with Towson, and Towson’s first-ever meeting against a team from the Big Sky Conference. The Eagles were previously 2-0 against CAA Football.
Eastern Washington Coach and Player Quotes
Head Coach Beau Baldwin
Opening Statement: “I congratulate Towson. They came here, played a great football game and it turned out to be a battle that came down to the wire. We knew it would be a tough, hard-fought game. Anytime you finish your season when it is a win or go home situation -- especially the deeper you get -- the more it is going to hurt. You credit them, and we hold our heads up high knowing we are going to continue to come back fighting, and I am so proud of this 2013 team. I am. 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. Everyone in that locker room is hurting, but should hold their heads up high. I would like to make a statement thanking the seniors for helping pave the way for not only this year, but the path that has been paved since 2009. A lot of them got here and redshirted. They help continue to make these strides, and we will be back at it again. It is just hard right now.”
Responding to Cody’s Comments (below) on Vernon: “Part of the reason why I sat back and let Vernon talk like he was is because it is part of the reason Vernon is a great leader on this team. We all look in the mirror and see what we could have done better. Cody is doing the same, and I am doing the same. There is no one play. There is never one play in a game ever. We all look in the mirror and find what each one of us could have done better. When guys are Players of the Year and Walter Payton winners, but they are still looking to find ways to be better -- that is what makes guys great. Leave it at that. Players sitting back and processing that makes you proud as a coach to have those types of people around you. It’s special.”
On Different Quarterback: “There is a little bit of adjustment, but we had some film on him. He had played before in their wildcat system. He had run some plays in that set and we knew a little bit about him. There are a few things you adjust to, but nothing major.”
On Play before Half: “It is easy for us to ask after the fact why didn’t he throw that. That is easy. The hard part is to be out there with a split-second decision as they are rolling out, and you think the end zone is there, but it closes on the end line. He takes ownership to himself, but I could have done something to leave him in the pocket. I got him outside the pocket, that’s what I thought (was best). It is never one play, this way or the other. It is a collective effort, and we go back and find plays where we could have done things better. That is the way we look at it.”
On Final Drive: “They just made a few plays and hit a few things. Give them credit for that. We have been in that situation before and been able to make plays. It is hard (on the losing side). It is hard to do on both sides of the ball. I give them credit for making those plays. It is also hard sometimes when you are on defense and they are always in four-down territory to get into that type of rhythm. They made a play or two more. We keep pointing out certain plays, but realistically there are hidden plays or calls that could have been the difference. Today was two great teams, and it comes down to inches sometimes. Definitely when you are in the semifinals.”
Offensive Changes: “We knew what we were doing. We went into halftime like usual -- we were calm. I was seeing everything fine that I saw on film. I just needed to make plays. I wasn’t doing that in the first half. In the second, we came out and adjusted to some things. Our receivers were making plays and our offensive line was blocking hard. We did better in the second half. It is just unfortunate that it ended like this.”
On Throw to Kupp: “He was wide open, and
I missed him. I failed my team. He was wide open for the
Play Before the Half: “I was trying to score. They clouded it over there. Coach Baldwin told me right before just throw it away so we can come back fourth down. I saw a crease and didn’t get it.”
On Seniors: “Cody hit it on the spot. They mean everything to me. They won that national championship when they were freshmen. We were trying to get them back again. I made some great friends like Allen Brown and Ashton Clark. It sucks seeing them have to go off like this. They played their hearts out there. They have given up their bodies (to football) for four years. It hurts.”
On Changes: “We knew what we have to do. We came in at halftime, the coaches talked to us, and we made a few adjustments. We were seeing everything we saw on film. We just had to come out and execute. Our defense came out got some stops, and we finally started rolling on offense.”
On Seeing the Field: “I saw everything fine. The defensive line was tall and got their hands up, but I saw everything fine.”
On Offensive Line Getting Stronger in Second Half: “They were. They were strong in the beginning. We tried to come out a little bit faster. I have to add more energy to the table. Everybody did their job.”
On Next Year: “I am not thinking about that. I am thinking about my seniors and this team. I don’t care about next year. That is next year right now. I am not thinking about that -- we just lost.”
LB Cody McCarthy
On Vernon Saying He Failed: “Vernon did not let this team down. Towson is a good team, and they left it out on the field. This man is a heckuva football player. The things he is able to do in incredible situations where most people can’t -- he makes plays. He did not fail this team. As a team we came a couple points short. Defensively, we gave up some plays to some good football players. We will be back at it again, no doubt about it. I would go to war with these two men any day of the week -- any day. I would take these two men over anybody in the country hands down.”
On Seniors: “I absolutely love every
single one of them. They have taught me so much. They brought me in
and they took me under their wing. These seniors have built this
program. What we are able to do today is a lot of credit to them.
When you are underclassmen you look up to these guys. When you have
such a strong backing by your seniors, you never feel like you are
down. They are always picking you up. Allen Brown, Ashton Clark,
and Ashton Miller are great leaders, and they will continue to be
great leaders all their life. They are great people, and so is
everyone on this team. That is what makes us special. We are a
great family and we will stick together as a family. Family over
Towson Coach and Player Quotes
Head Coach Rob Ambrose
Opening Statement: "First of all, I’m extremely proud of my guys—players and staff. Losing the quarterback 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."
On when Peter’s injury occurred: "It was on a scramble, we went empty and he got the first down. He got tackled by a guy who was clearly twice his weight, and I think the way he went down on the turf with that body weight shook his shoulder up a little bit. He came out, then he went back in and that’s when we fumbled."
On feelings on getting to national championship: "I’m numb. It’s a little surreal. I’m wet from the Gatorade. I love my kids and I’m so proud of them. I don’t want to seem redundant, but these kids were brought here on a dream, a chance to make history, to do things that have never been done at a place where people said you couldn’t do them. They didn’t listen to anybody—we tuned them all out, through the good days and the bad. Connor is right, they’re an extremely tight-knit group. They believe in each other in ways that I haven’t had the honor to see until this point of my career and it’s an honor to coach them."
QB #4 Connor
On what coach told you at halftime: "He just told me let’s have some fun. Being the backup, I have to be prepared for anything, and that’s how I approach each week. I felt pretty confident in the game plan this week and the coaches just made good calls and put us in the right positions."
On if high pace of final drive felt more comfortable: "It felt pretty comfortable. It just seemed like we were clicking really well on that drive. People were finding ways to get open and the line did a great job protecting me the whole drive."
On thought process after 14-yard sack: "First I was just really upset at myself for not throwing the ball away. I thought I could out-run the guy. But I knew that we just had to focus on the next play, focus on getting the first down."
RB #28 Terrance West
On thinking about records coming into the game: "What records? The main goal is the national championship. That’s the team goal and that’s what we came here to do. We didn’t come here for my records."
On feeling when starting quarterback was out for game: "I was hurt because Peter is a great person and a great player. But I had no doubt in Connor coming in and stepping up. We practice for situations like this throughout the week so I had faith in Connor and I knew he was going to pull through."
On getting slowed down in 2nd and 3rd quarters: "That’s just a part of the game. You’re not going to have a lot of big runs, you just have to take what they give you, and that’s what I did today."
DB #12 Christian Carpenter
On defense’s thought process on EWU’s last drive: "We all just said look, this is our season right here. It’s either we stop them or it’s going to be a long flight home. We didn't want to go home with our heads down asking what we could’ve done on the field to help us get a ‘W.’ We didn’t want to stop playing. Our main goal was to get to Frisco, and that’s what our defense did"
On interception to win the game: "I just knew to not let anybody get behind me. I saw the ball coming in the air and as soon as I saw it, I said I was going to get it. I knew if I got it, the game would be over."
On difficulties of defending Vernon Adams: "He’s just so multi-dimensional. He can throw the ball, he causes problems with his legs, and he gets out of tight situations. We talked about him all week, how this guy is capable of making plays with his arm and his legs. We had to try to do the best we could, and we came out with the win, so I’m proud of our defense."