Towson wins respect, but loses game, 16-14 Late fumble recovery boosts favored Lehigh

September 21, 1997|By Steven Kivinski | Steven Kivinski,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Towson University came away from yesterday's matchup with Lehigh knowing it can play with any team in the Patriot League.

Had Towson not given the Engineers back five of their six turnovers, the host Tigers could have come away with a victory.

Towson's fifth and final turnover, a fumble near midfield with three minutes left, enabled preseason-favorite Lehigh to escape Minnegan Stadium with a 16-14 win.

Towson (2-1, 1-1) led 7-3 at halftime and was up 14-10 before wide receiver Deron Braswell made a spectacular 15-yard reception in the end zone to provide the Engineers (1-1, 1-1) with a two-point edge with 3: 20 remaining.

Towson quarterback Kevin Smith, who was intercepted for the first time this season on his 98th attempt, was operating the two-minute offense to perfection down the stretch when wide receiver Adam Overbey was stripped from behind at midfield.

"Fumbles and injuries are all part of the game. Lehigh responded to the situation when they had to, and we turned the ball over too many times to be effective," said Towson coach Gordy Combs, who lost his place-kicker, George Perdikakis, for part of the game due to a stinger in his neck following a blocked field goal.

"They were the preseason favorites and we were the seventh-picked team [in a field of seven], and we turned the ball over as many times as we do and we only lose by two points. That says something about our football team."

So do the statistics.

Towson's offense out-rushed Lehigh, 144 yards to 107, but much of that was wasted when the Tigers came up empty twice inside the Engineers' 15-yard-line.

"We ran the ball effectively, but when we got down in the red zone, we shot ourselves in the foot," said Smith, who was sacked four times and completed 16 of 24 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown.

The Tigers failed to score a touchdown on a first-and-goal opportunity at the Lehigh 4 late in the first quarter, and came away with nothing after Perdikakis' 25-yard field-goal attempt was batted down.

An interception by Ken Kraemer set up the Tigers' first touchdown, a 17-yard strike from Smith to Overbey that put Towson ahead, 7-0, with 1: 10 left in the first quarter.

The Engineers of Bethlehem, Pa., who were stunned by Fordham in their opener last week, had a first-and-goal at the 2 in the second quarter, but had to settle for Matt Swartz's 27-yard field goal after defensive back Jabari Garrett threw Lehigh quarterback Phil Stambaugh for a 7-yard loss on third-and-goal at the 3.

In addition to his key sack, Garrett had three take-aways for Towson, recovering two fumbles and intercepting a pass.

A fumble on a lateral from Smith to Jason Corle (99 yards on 27 carries) in the third quarter enabled Lehigh to take over at the Tigers' 28, and Braswell's leaping 14-yard reception between two defenders in the end zone gave the Engineers a 10-7 lead.

Garrett's interception and 27-yard return later in the quarter gave the Tigers excellent field position. Eight plays later, Corle scored from 7 yards out to cap an eight-play, 30-yard scoring drive.

"We're trying to gain the respect of all the teams in the league," said Garrett. "Teams don't give us any respect, so we come out every game and try to earn it. We didn't win today, but I think we got their respect."

Next for Towson

Opponent: Columbia

Site: Lawrence A. Wien Stadium, New York

When: Saturday, 1 p.m.

Record: 0-1

Yesterday: Lost to Harvard, 45-7

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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