Towson rises, pulls down Lehigh, 23-19

After nine straight losses to Hawks, Tigers upend Top 10 Division I-AA team

October 13, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Towson University finally exorcised its Patriot League demon yesterday.

After nine consecutive losses to Lehigh, the host Tigers thrust themselves into the league championship race with a 23-19 victory before 3,137.

The outcome ended a 16-game conference winning streak for Lehigh, which was ranked ninth and 10th in the two NCAA Division I-AA polls last week.

Towson (4-2 overall, 2-1 league) now has command of its destiny with two more toughies, Bucknell and Colgate, to follow the next two weekends at home, where the Tigers are unbeaten in three starts.

The victory did not come without some tense final moments. After seizing a four-point lead on Ben Whitacre's third field goal with 5:45 remaining in the game, the Tigers had to fend off two late scoring bids by a Lehigh team that has demonstrated a knack for final-quarter heroics.

On the first, Lehigh backup quarterback Matt Shiels was flagged for pass interference while on the receiving end of a fourth-down flea-flicker pass from Jermaine Pugh, turning the ball over on downs.

The Tigers went three-and-out, punted and then had to fend off a last-ditch drive to their 4 when end Jason Troilo halted Shiels on a fourth-and-one sneak with 16 seconds left.

"I haven't really come down yet," Towson coach Gordy Combs said in a post-game interview. "I won't believe it until I watch ESPN tonight. It's a great accomplishment, probably the best win for this program since 1993 against Delaware."

Towson had not beaten a Division I-AA team ranked in the Top 10 in 15 years (Maine in 1987). Lehigh (4-2, 1-1) suffered only its third loss in its past 49 regular-season games.

Heroes were abundant for the Tigers. Their defense blanked the Mountain Hawks (ranked sixth nationally in scoring) for the last 2 1/2 quarters, with rover P.D. Moore playing the starring role with 14 tackles, including four for losses.

Moore's determined play at the corners often forced Pugh, Lehigh's biggest offensive threat, to the inside after he gained 98 yards and scored a touchdown on his first two runs from scrimmage.

"He's got a lot of speed and he's a playmaker," said Combs of Moore, a sophomore from Cape May Courthouse, N.J.

Offensively, receiver Jamal White broke the school's career pass-reception record with a 14-yard yard catch on Towson's first scoring drive and finished with three receptions for 65 yards and eight rushes for 43 while taking direct snaps from center.

Tailback Matt Romeo rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown because "the offensive line was blocking great," and Brandon White contributed a 16-yard scoring run on a reverse. Whitacre's second field goal - from 33 yards - was the longest of his career.

Punter Steve Bulcavage averaged 49.5 yards on four kicks, including a 58-yarder that gave the Tigers the field position to drive to the go-ahead touchdown.

Lehigh seemed to lose its offensive rhythm when starting quarterback Chad Schwenk was knocked out of the game by a sprained knee midway through the second quarter with his team leading 19-10.

Lehigh was also undermined by 10 penalties, Towson's ball control (more than 37 minutes of possession) and their own sputtering attack after Pugh was contained.

Towson still has a long way to go to win the title in a league it will leave for the Atlantic 10 after next season.

Temporarily, though, the taste was very sweet. Lehigh had been laid low for once.

Lehigh 12 7 0 0 - 19

Towson 7 6 7 3 - 23

First quarter L-Pugh 65 run (kick failed), 14:40 T-Romeo 7 run (Whitacre kick), 11:02 L-Wilson 2 run (run failed), 9:13 Second quarter T-Whitacre 21 FG L-Pitter 7 INT return (Kelley kick), 7:54 T-Whitacre 33 FG, 3:18 Third quarter T-B. White 16 run (Whitacre kick), 8:41 Fourth quarter T-Whitacre 25 FG, 5:45 A: 3,137

L T

First downs 17 20

Rushes-yards 34-190 52-182

Passing 104 149

Punt returns 2-7 3-17

Kickoff returns 6-163 3-55

Interception ret. 2-7 0-0

Comp-Att-Int 11-34-0 13-24-2

Sacked-Yards Lost 3-24 1-12

Punts 8-32.0 5-43.8

Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0-0

Penalties-Yards 10-91 9-56

Time of Possession 22:48 37:12

Rushing: Lehigh, Pugh 21-176, Rath 3-24, Micklos 1-6, Wilson 2-5, Shiels 5-(minus-9), Schwenk 2-(minus-12). Towson, Romeo 25-93, White 8-43, Galloway 8-27, B. White 1-16, Miles 3-10, Marcus 2-8, team 2-(minus-4), Amer 3- (minus-11). Passing: Lehigh, Shiels 8-23-74-0, Schwenk 3-10-30-0, Pugh 0-1-0-0. Towson, Amer 13-23-149-2, Romeo 0-1-0-0. Receiving: Lehigh, Sutton 4-34, Bergen 2-23, Argenta 2-15, Smith 1-16, Hluschak 1-9, Pugh 1-7. Towson, J. White 3-65, Galloway 3-19, Romeo 3-9, B. White 2-33, Byroads 2-23.

Next for Towson

Opponent:Bucknell

Site:Towson University Stadium

When:Saturday, 1 p.m.

Record:2-3

Yesterday:Idle

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