The Towson University football team has reached a three-pronged fork in its 2002 journey.
The first road leads the Tigers into a collision with Lehigh, a perennial Patriot League power and the ninth- or 10th-ranked team in the country, depending on the Division I-AA poll - and a team they have never beaten.
Tomorrow's home game against the Mountain Hawks (4-1 overall, 1-0 conference) will define the season, clearly determining whether Towson is a title contender or a pretender. If the Tigers win, subsequent home showdowns with Bucknell and Colgate will absorb even more meaning.
With their only ugly performance to date a 23-7 defeat by league rival Lafayette, the Tigers (3-2, 1-1) have placed themselves in a virtual must-win scenario against Lehigh. A school with two losses has never won the Patriot title.
Is this the year the stranglehold is broken?
"I know we're better than our record shows," said Towson wide receiver Jamal White, who needs one catch to break Jason Corle's school record of 188 set in 1999. "I'm real confident about this game. I know we're going to win."
This is heady optimism going into a match with a team that is 46-2 during the past four-plus years - including three undefeated seasons. Lehigh has a 15-game Patriot winning streak and is sixth nationally with a scoring average of 38.8 points, ahead of No. 8 Towson (37.0).
Last week, the Mountain Hawks mounted their second fourth-quarter rally in three weeks to overcome defending Ivy League champion Harvard, 36-35, while the Tigers lost in double overtime at Cornell, 34-31.
"They respect Lehigh, but I don't have to do much pouring of gasoline on the fire this week," Tigers coach Gordy Combs said of his players. "We're going to have our hands full with an extremely talented team."
Towson has given the Mountain Hawks some scares over the years, the last time two years ago in the final Minnegan Field meeting when the Tigers cut the deficit to 28-21 before committing a turnover en route to a potential tying touchdown and losing, 42-21.
"They don't play down to the level of their opponents," said Tigers offensive guard Jason Gunning. "But they're worried about us because they've never had an easy one with us."
"We know they execute well and don't make many mistakes. They rarely fumble or throw an interception," added defensive tackle Juston Yelverton. "What we have to do is play a whole game, 60 minutes, against them."
NOTES: Towson unveiled its new press box yesterday, and athletic director Wayne Edwards announced that the field house is scheduled to be completed April 29, the day of the Towson-Johns Hopkins lacrosse game. ... Already scheduled at the school's refurbished stadium are the Salisbury-Frostburg State football game Nov. 16 and the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association lacrosse championships next spring. Towson is also expected to be host to the NCAA Division I lacrosse quarterfinals.
Towson is 0-9 in its series with Lehigh:
1986:Lehigh, 26, Towson 21
1988:Lehigh 27, Towson 22
1989:Lehigh 48, Towson 39
1990:Lehigh 35, Towson 14
1997:Lehigh 16, Towson 14
1998:Lehigh 55, Towson 7
1999:Lehigh 44, Towson 39
2000:Lehigh 42, Towson 21
2001:Lehigh 47, Towson 12
Total points:Lehigh 340, Towson 189