As Towson's scholarships went down, victories went up


November 24, 1994|By GARY LAMBRECHT

Sometimes, less really is more.

Since deciding three years ago to eliminate football scholarshipsTowson State has enjoyed unprecedented success as a Division I-AA program. This, despite the gradual loss of scholarship players and a schedule that, although pared, remained solid.

The last group of seniors on scholarship played in Saturday's 42-7 rout over Morgan State. It was a fitting ending to a golden football era for the school.

The Tigers wound up with their second straight 8-2 seasongiving Towson State a 21-9 record under coach Gordy Combs, who took over after the school announced it would de-emphasize football.

The Tigers have gone 19-5 in their past 24 games under Combswho also guided them to a 5-0 finish this year after they had dropped back-to-back games at Howard and Bucknell last month.

"Not too many Division I-AA teams could do that and not make the playoffs in either year," said Combs of the 8-2 seasons.

A lack of name recognition and scheduling strength worked against Towson State, although the Tigers didn't go 16-4 in the past two years by beating up on weaklings.

Last month, the Tigers defeated 20th-ranked and then-unbeaten Hofstra on the road, despite having a third as many scholarship players as the Flying Dutchmen. In September, the Tigers crushed a Delaware State team that enjoyed a similar advantage. The same goes for Morgan State, victims of a Towson State rout for the past two years.

Last year, the Tigers beat Connecticut and Delaware on the road. Connecticut is contemplating a move to Division I-A. Delaware, a I-AA power for years, had more than twice the scholarship players Towson State had last year. And consider that two of the Tigers' past four losses came in the closing seconds against Howard, which has a huge scholarship advantage over Towson State.

The Tigers won by overcoming a lack of quantity with terrific quality.

Quarterback Dan Crowley broke nearly every school passing record, winding up with 8,900 yards and 81 touchdowns. In the past two years, Crowley was sensational, completing 304 of 544 passes (56 percent) for 51 touchdowns with 14 interceptions.

Wide receiver Mark Orlando also rewrote the record books. After making the team as a walk-on, Orlando caught 178 passes for 3,460 yards and 31 touchdowns while accounting for 19.4 yards per catch. Orlando saved his best for his last season, leading the nation's I-AA receivers with 136 yards per game, while averaging 22.2 yards per catch and scoring 12 times.

And running back Brian McCarty did a capable job of replacing Tony Vinson, who rushed for 2,016 yards in 1993 and was drafted by the San Diego Chargers. McCarty battled shoulder injuries this year by rushing for 1,005 yards and 16 touchdowns and caught 38 passes for 392 yards. He wound up his career with 2,594 rushing yards, 3,283 all-purpose yards and a school-record 34 touchdowns.

"I take my hat off to Gordy," Morgan State coach Ricky Diggsaid. "His teams are well-groomed and accustomed to winning."

Upward at Morgan

Diggs hopes he has started a similar trend at Morgan State. Although the Bears finished with a 3-8 record in Diggs' fourth season, they closed the year with their most encouraging month 15 years.

Led by maturing offensive and defensive lines and the development of junior quarterback Michael Moore, Morgan State won two of its last four games, beating Florida A&M and Howard, the first road games the Bears have won since rejoining the MEAC in 1984.

"Other than this last game [at Towson State], I thought the last half of the season we ended up on a high note," Diggs said. "The guys have had a taste of success, and they know what it takes now."

With most of their starters expected back next year -- they lose only a handful of seniors -- the Bears should be in position to make a major move in the MEAC. In the past, roster turnover has retarded the growth of the program. If Morgan State intends to have its first winning season since 1979 next year, that cannot happen again.

Wrestling success

Western Maryland began a new wrestling era last weekend, as new coaches John Lowe and Ray Pickersgill guided the Green Terror to a success at the Swarthmore Takedown Tournament, an exhibition match that features Division I and III teams.

Freshmen Steve Smiddy (134 pounds, Northeast) and Paul Scott (142, Mount St. Joseph) won titles for Western Maryland.

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