By Todd Karpovich, Special to The Baltimore Sun
The Towson Tigers forced three early turnovers and kept the high-powered offense of Massachusetts scrambling for part of Saturday night's Colonial Athletic Conference matchup.
Still, the Tigers couldn't find a way to keep the momentum, and the Minutemen took advantage by scoring 20 unanswered points en route to 27-14 victory before an announced 5,560 at Johnny Unitas Stadium. Towson has now lost three straight and plays three of its next five games against opponents ranked in the top-15 of the Football Championship Subdivision.
"We're playing very good teams," Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. "We need to force turnovers. We need to not to turn the ball over. We needed to be physical with them and play a four-quarter game. … That's not saying anything bad about our defense. That's saying how good their offense was."
Umass, ranked eighth in the FCS, entered the game leading the CAA in total offense (461 yards per game) and was tied for second in scoring offense (30.25). The Minutemen (4-1 overall, 2-0 CAA) also feature two of the CAA's strongest running backs in John Griffin and Jonathan Hernandez, who are helping the ground attack average 212.8 yards per game. The two were effective against the Tigers as Griffin had 118 yards on 21 carries with a touchdown and Hernandez carried the ball 19 times for 60 yards, also with a touchdown.
Towson (1-4, 0-2) worked in a two-quarterback system with a pair of transfers, Chris Hart and Bart Blanchard. The two split duties again and combined for 133 yards passing, with Hart throwing for a touchdown.
On their second possession, the Minutemen marched 67 yards on 12 plays, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Hernandez with 6:13 left in the first quarter. The Tigers defense then buckled down and dictated play for most of the half.
Towson's Jeremy Gardner forced a fumble when he sacked UMass quarterback Kyle Havens and the Tigers' Marcus Valentine scooped up the ball and ran three yards to tie the game at 7. It was the first time Towson scored any points in the first quarter this season and the first time in five years the Tigers returned a fumble for a touchdown.
"We were definitely going at it and going hard," Gardner said. "Coming off [last week's] loss to Columbia, we were definitely upset. … You just have to go on to the next game and prepare to win."
The Tigers then took advantage of another Massachusetts miscue when Hernandez fumbled on his own 5 and Trevor Walker recovered. Hart found Alex Blake on the next play and Towson led 14-7 with 13:22 left in the half. However, the Minutemen bounced back and a 33-yard field goal by Caleb Violette and a 10-yard pass from Havens to Anthony Nelson gave them a 17-14 lead at the half.
A 23-yard field goal by Violette and a 5-yard touchdown by Griffin put the lead at 27-14 lead with 14 minutes left in the game.
"It was a good defense we played today," Havens said.
"It was a great win for UMass on the road against a good Towson football team," Minutemen coach Kevin Morris said. "It was certainly a battle for four quarters right down to the end. We were very excited to come out with a victory."