In another wild finish, Towson falls to Howard

October 02, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Losing on the final play of the game at the hands of a future NFL quarterback -- the way Towson State lost to Howard and Jay Walker last year -- is a stunning but understandable way to go down.

Losing the way the Tigers did yesterday, 19-13 to the Bison, is next to inconceivable. The bottom line is that Towson State's dream of making the Division I-AA playoffs for the first time in its final year of scholarship football was severely damaged.

With 27 seconds left and the Tigers leading 13-12, Howard turned a botched 26-yard field-goal attempt into another wild victory over Towson State. Holder Terrill Hill, a backup quarterback, scooped up a low snap, scrambled to his feet, ran to his right, then barely eluded the grasp of John Swigart before lofting the game-winning touchdown pass to a diving Themba Masimini.

The pass barely cleared the outstretched hand of Dan Nate, and Masimini barely caught the pass in bounds. It was the first career touchdown catch for Masimini, a sophomore tight end.

"Talk about calm under pressure," Howard coach Steve Wilson said. "There was a guy [Swigart] on his [Hill's] shoulder, and he's a left-hander throwing while running to his right. The key is winning in the crunch, something this team did time and time again last year."

The Bison (2-2), hardly the juggernaut that rolled through its regular season undefeated before making the playoffs last year, still had the resources -- three times more scholarship players than Towson State, for starters -- to break the hearts of the Tigers (3-1).

First, they broke up some of Towson State's thin roster. By the end of the third quarter, the Tigers had lost senior defensive end Scott Tull to a knee injury and sophomore end/linebacker John Bardak to a broken fibula. Both will miss at least four weeks and could be lost for the season.

They were replaced by freshmen Chris Childress and Tim Moran, a tough order against a veteran Bison offensive line that averages nearly 300 pounds. As a stopgap, the Tigers moved inside linebacker Marco Calise to the defensive line and even rotated Swigart, the team's No. 1 fullback, into the defensive end spot.

The Bison, who trailed 6-3 at halftime and 13-6 going into the final period, responded by pounding the weakened Tigers with halfback Andre Owens and particularly 6-foot-1, 225-pound fullback Rupert Grant.

Grant (29 carries, 148 yards) carried the Bison into contention with a gritty fourth-quarter display. Howard pulled to within 13-12 with 7:11 left by driving 95 yards on 14 plays. Grant carried 11 times for 63 yards on that drive, including the 1-yard score. The Tigers maintained the lead when Mike Arbutina blocked the extra-point attempt.

But the Tigers quickly punted on their next possession. That allowed the Bison to drive 60 yards on 13 consecutive rushes to set up the wild finish.

"That's the problem with having only eight full scholarship players," Towson State coach Gordy Combs said. "When you lose one of them [Tull], then lose another great player [Bardak], your negatives start to affect your football team. It really shows when you play a school that has 63 scholarships.

"I don't think our players or our coaching staff gets enough credit. We've beaten three teams that have more scholarships than we do, and we hung in there against another one today, except for one play that was a fluke."

In all, Howard rushed 61 times for 297 of its 385 yards, negating an ineffective, first-half performance by starting quarterback Pep ZTC Hamilton. He was intercepted three times, and left for freshman Larry Connor, who moved the team decently by contributing 49 rushing yards in the second half.

Besides losing on a freak play, the Tigers will remember this defeat as the day they wasted a superb effort by senior tailback Brian McCarty and the day that senior quarterback Dan Crowley reminded them that he was human.

McCarty was brilliant. His junior season ended early in last year's Howard game, when he separated his shoulder. Yesterday, there was little stopping him, as McCarty rushed 16 times for 98 yards and caught five passes for another 69 yards, accounting for half of Towson State's 336 yards.

Crowley, who was bothered all day by Howard's pass rush and excellent coverage by its secondary, completed 12 of 29 passes and was intercepted four times -- matching his total for last season.

He was intercepted twice in the end zone, including on the game's final play, when Crowley tripped while throwing a pass that Sylvester Settles picked off. Even his lone touchdown pass, 19-yarder to Andrew Fields that gave the Tigers a 13-3 lead early in the third period, went through safety Billy Jenkins' hands in the end zone.

"I came out flat and played the whole day flat," said Crowley, who gave the Tigers a 6-3 lead in the first period with a 7-yard touchdown run. "I made some real bad reads and poor judgments. The ball was in my hands, and our defense only let up two scores. I say that's my fault. It's not going to happen again."

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