Defense keeps Towson's playoff hopes alive

Towson 31 Richmond 7

November 12, 2006|By Tom Garrett | Tom Garrett,Special to the Sun

RICHMOND, Va. -- A bizarre sequence on the opening kickoff and a season-high five turnovers made little difference as Towson University routed No. 25 Richmond, 31-7, yesterday.

Sean Schaefer completed 22 of 32 passes for 259 yards and one touchdown as Towson (7-3, 4-3 Atlantic 10) improved to 5-0 on the road this year. The win over Richmond (5-5, 2-5) also keeps the Tigers' playoff hopes intact heading into the final week of the regular season.

The game began on an odd note when Tigers return man Jimmy McClam received the opening kickoff, walked nonchalantly across the goal line and then attempted to re-enter the end zone. By that time, the Spiders were closing fast. Richmond's Andrew Harris alertly swatted the ball from McClam's arm, and Ryan Mace recovered the fumble for a touchdown.

The play left some on the Towson sideline in disbelief. "It was kind of like, `That really just happened?' " Schaefer said.

"We didn't let that affect us. That could have been a big downer for us as a football team, but we didn't let that be a negative, because we knew we had plenty of time," coach Gordy Combs said.

Towson rebounded with a sharp seven-play touchdown drive. Schaefer and Demetrius Harrison hooked up on a 50-yard pass down the middle on the Tigers' first play from scrimmage. That play helped set up a 14-yard touchdown pass from Schaefer to Harrison, who finished with 82 yards on five catches.

"Going into our preparation, we knew we could move the football," Combs said. "The big thing [was], `Can we stop them?' "

The answer was a resounding yes. The Tigers recovered from last week's poor defensive performance to shut out the Spiders' offense, and pulled away with a 24-point second quarter.

Combs cited the return of junior linebacker Brian Bradford (eight solo tackles) and an improved attitude as reasons for the improvement over last week's 29-28 loss to William and Mary.

Towson held Richmond to 221 yards of total offense and 11 first downs. The Tigers intercepted quarterback Levi Brown three times, forced eight punts and prevented the Spiders from reaching the red zone.

"We're not playing well on offense at all," Richmond coach Dave Clawson said.

Another defensive standout was Towson sophomore safety Drew Mack, who returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter. It was the Tigers' second touchdown in 93 seconds, pushing their lead to 21-7.

Of the five turnovers, three of which were interceptions by Schaefer, the only one of any consequence was the fumble on the opening kickoff.

Towson has a chance to make the Division I-AA playoffs if it beats James Madison at Johnny Unitas Stadium on Saturday. The Dukes, who lost yesterday to Villanova, 21-20, were ranked fourth in the nation.

"Now we have to beat James Madison. That's how we have to get in, if we're going to get in any way," Combs said.

A victory would be the climax of a two-year turnaround from 2004, when the Tigers went 3-8 in their first season in the Atlantic 10.

"I think [the progress] is a little bit amazing, but we felt that we had the players in place," Combs said. "Recruiting people like Sean Schaefer was instrumental in that."

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