One of the key words in coaching parlance these days is "chemistry," referring to how a team's personnel plays together. It was visible at Towson State on Saturday night, when two starting linebackers, junior Jared Freeze and sophomore Joe Kreisher, produced a major chemical reaction against James Madison.
Freeze, who missed three games with a mild concussion, returned to the starting lineup and led the Tigers with 11 tackles, one for minus yardage. Kreisher, who had started the first five games at tight end, made his first college-level defensive appearance and had nine tackles, one for minus yardage.
In making its best showing of the year, the defense shut out James Madison, averaging nearly 30 points a game, for three quarters before a fumble, an interception and one drive led to three fourth-quarter touchdowns, a 21-14 victory and another loss for Towson State (0-6).
"The defense was kind of flat, and we breathed some life into it," Kreisher said yesterday. And Freeze said: "You could tell during the week, the defense had a whole new attitude. We went into the game really fired up."
The pair was taking time out from preparations for tomorrow night's home game against Liberty.
Freeze said: "The James Madison players were talking a bunch of stuff -- "They thought they'd walk all over us," Kreisher interjected -- "but then our offense went out and scored on the first series and our defense came alive. We knew we could do it, but now we've proved we can stop a big team."
Defensive coordinator Gordy Combs, captain and a starting linebacker on Towson State's only other team to start 0-6 (1972, Phil Albert's first year as head coach), said the loss was a disappointing one, but for the first time this season, the Tigers had challenged in the fourth quarter.
"We had some injuries on defense, and our young players had to grow on their own," Combs said of the earlier games, "and there were mistakes -- a lot of peaks and valleys. After the Madison game, we told the defense it had played well and they could build on this foundation."
Kreisher played linebacker and offensive guard at St. Mark's in Wilmington, Del., and was recruited as a linebacker. He broke his finger as a freshman and did not play. He was shifted to tight end in the spring of 1989 and was a backup last season. This fall, though primarily a blocker, he caught eight passes for 75 yards and a touchdown.
"We made the change with Joe because we thought he'd give our defense a lift," Albert said, "and we didn't know we'd get Jared back. It gave us two more athletes and let us change some schemes a bit to take advantage of their abilities."
Freeze, who sat out last year after transferring from hometown Montgomery College-Rockville, was hurt in the first two games, and was delighted with his return. "It felt great to get back," he said, a grin spread across his face. "I'm not as strong as I should be, but I'm quick enough and my speed is good."