The moment of truth will arrive tomorrow for Towson's football squad, which still entertains thoughts of being the school's first in two decades to make NCAA postseason play.
If the Tigers can beat James Madison, the South Division champion in the Atlantic 10, at home they would finish 8-3 (5-3 in the league) and retain a shot at the Division I-AA tournament. If they can't, the season is over.
"We're in the best conference in I-AA football and we'll have people to help us [if it comes to that]," coach Gordy Combs said. "[The playoffs are] all our kids talked about immediately after we won the game last week. But I was in a predicament like this in 1993 when we were 8-2, an independent and didn't go. It gets very political."
From the A-10, Massachusetts and James Madison are assuredly in with division titles on their resumes. The winner of the Maine-New Hampshire game is almost guaranteed a bid. At best, the Tigers are fourth in line, but their stock can rise appreciably with a win over the Dukes.
"I don't think anybody thought we'd be in this position," Combs said. "Everybody picked us sixth [last in the South]. But I don't want the players to get too excited too early and leave their game on the practice field."
To have a chance, the Tigers will have to reverse a disturbing trend. They have not won an A-10 game at Johnny Unitas Stadium all season, losing to Maine, Massachusetts and William and Mary.
Alive and kicking
Towson's emergence in men's soccer means the state will have two of the 16 teams still standing in the College Cup for the first time, the Tigers joining defending national champion Maryland in advancing with 2-0 victories Wednesday.
Tigers coach Frank Olszewski would have preferred a rematch with fellow Colonial Athletic Association member Hofstra because it would have meant a second home game in the tournament, but instead will have to take his team to a rugged assignment at second-seeded Wake Forest, which routed Hofstra, 5-1.
Still, Towson received a break when Fairfield defeated Connecticut or it would not have played at home at all despite a 15th seeding since Connecticut applied to the NCAA to host a second-round game and Towson didn't.
"As the team improved, we should have updated our bid," athletic director Mike Hermann said. "It was an administrative error."
The Tigers rate a chance against the Demon Deacons because of a solid defense that has 11 shutouts and ranked seventh nationally in fewest goals allowed entering the tournament.
Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins' men (18-1-2) will carry a 16-game unbeaten streak into their Division III match against Western New England (16-5-2) at Williamstown, Mass. today. Host Williams and two-time defending national champion Messiah meet in another Sweet 16 game.
Hopkins is seeking to make its first final four appearance since 1994, the year the team lost to Bethany in the championship match. Four years later, the Blue Jays made the final eight. They can break the school record for season victories today.
Morgan State football made some strides this season, improving from 2-9 to 5-6, but it hasn't reached the point where coach Donald Hill-Eley wants the team to go.
"In the offseason, we're going to fix the holes," Hill-Eley said. "I guess the biggest thing is to build off the maturing. The nucleus is here on campus for the first time. A lot is already in place."
The Bears will lose just six significant seniors, including four starters.
"In the past we'd lose 18, 21 guys," Hill-Eley said. "Now it's a matter of getting these remaining fundamentally sound, so we're not taking the roller coaster."
Local players at Salisbury received numerous postseason honors from the Capital Athletic Conference. In women's soccer, forward Kate Weaver (Edgewood), the conference's scoring leader, was a first-team all-league pick, and midfielder Robyn Bishop (River Hill) made the second team. In men's soccer, Wijy Jones (Old Mill) and T.J. Nairn (Archbishop Spalding) were all-league choices. In volleyball, first-team nods went to Abbey Petrecca (Perry Hall) and Stacey Krebs (Liberty). In cross country, twins Kelly (women's Runner of the Year) and Glenna Sullivan (both of Maryvale Prep) and three men, Will Murdoch (C. Milton Wright), Eric Graves (Catonsville) and Dustin Yourstone (Centennial) were first-teamers. ... Coppin State will admit fans free to two basketball games, tonight when the women play Youngstown State at 6 and Tuesday night when the men meet Winston-Salem State at 7:30.