Towson falls to Lehigh in playoff thriller, 40-38

December 03, 2011 | Drew Forrester

Towson University football coach Rob Ambrose took a long sip of water and straightened his back before answering the first question in his post-game press conference following Saturday’s 40-38 playoff loss to Lehigh.

“Was Terrance West injured?” was the question.

“No…” replied Ambrose.

A few minutes went by before a follow-up question led Ambrose to explain the reasoning behind his team’s decision to not give their star running back his expected workload in the biggest game in school history.

“Honestly,” Ambrose said, his voice low and his pace slower than usual, “Terrance didn’t practice all that well the last 10 days. And we knew their run defense was really strong, so we thought giving everyone some carries would help.”

Give Ambrose credit.  He could have dodged the question and made up a story about West coming down with the flu or having a nagging hip or ankle injury that reduced his playing time.

But he didn’t do that.

He said just enough to let everyone know something wasn’t quite right with the way his star player prepared for the biggest game in the history of the school.  Sources tell the decision to rotate the running backs was made in mid-week after West had difficulty in practice executing blocking schemes on play action plays and the Tigers were afraid that might leave quarterback Grant Enders vulnerable against a very good Lehigh front seven.

Towson didn’t bench their best player on Saturday, but they didn’t let him run hog-wild either.  And that’s going to be the issue that lingers over Johnny Unitas Stadium for quite a while, as the coach and his staff wonder what might have been had West carried the ball 22 times instead of the 11 he was handed on Saturday vs. Lehigh.

The game was one for the ages, with Lehigh’s offense giving Towson fits all afternoon.  Quarterback Chris Lum finished the day 36-for-48 (351 yards) and wide receiver Ryan Spadola hauled in 13 passes for 152 yards and one touchdown.  Three other Lehigh wide receivers had at least 4 catches on the day, and the Mountain Hawks went 7-for-14 on 3rd down, with 5 of those 7 conversions coming on throws by Lum.

Towson’s offense was nearly as impressive, as quarterback Grant Enders was 12-for-21 with 2 TD’s and 214 yards in the air and the Tigers outgained Lehigh on the ground, 125 yards to 108.

Oddly enough, the difference in the game turned out to be a safety with 5:14 remaining in the game that finalized the scoring at 40-38.  The Tigers had plenty of life left, though, if their defense could just get a stop and hand the ball back to their high-powered offense and Enders, who was throwing deep balls all day that would have made an NFL quarterback proud.

It never happened.  Lehigh held on to the ball for the remainder of the game, converting on two third downs and one fourth down with 46 seconds to play that iced their road playoff victory.

The summary shows Towson’s defense just couldn’t get the job done when it had to, but the questions about Terrance West’s playing time will be the subject most folks focus on when they analyze how the Tigers season ended.