TOWSON, Md. - Making their NCAA FCS Playoff debut, Coach Rob Ambrose and the Colonial Athletic Association champion Tigers (9-2) will host Patriot League champion Lehigh University (10-1) on Saturday, Dec. 3 at Minnegan Field at Johnny Unitas® Stadium.
Towson and Lehigh are two of the 20 teams that were selected to play in the NCAA FCS Championship. They are two of 12 teams that earned first round byes.
Sam Houston State (11-0) is the top seed while North Dakota State (10-1) is the number two seed. Georgia Southern (9-2) is seeded third, ahead of Montana (9-2) and Northern Iowa (9-2).
The Tigers are one of five CAA teams that earned spots in the NCAA FCS playoffs. Old Dominion (9-2), Maine (8-3), New Hampshire (8-3) and James Madison (7-4) were also selected.
The Tigers, who edged Rhode Island in their final regular season contest to win their first CAA championship, are the first team in NCAA history to qualify for the NCAA Playoffs at the Division III, Division II and NCAA FCS level. In 1976, the Tigers qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs and reached the Stagg Bowl, the Division III championship game. After a 14-10 victory over C.W. Post in the quarter-finals and a 38-36 semi-final win over St. Lawrence, the Tigers lost to Saint John’s (Minn.) in the championship game, 31-28.
From 1983 to 1986, the Tigers qualified for the NCAA Division II playoffs three times. In 1983, they lost to North Dakota State, 24-17. In 1984, the Tigers beat Norfolk State in the quarter-finals, 31-21. Then, they lost to Troy State in the semi-finals, 45-3. In their final season as an NCAA Division II program, the Tigers fell to Central State (Ohio) in the quarter-finals, 31-0. The Tigers have an all-time record of 3-4 in NCAA playoff games.
The most improved team in NCAA FCS this season, the Tigers have engineered a historic turnaround. After winning only one game in 2010, the Tigers have improved by eight games and will take a 9-2 record into the NCAA Playoffs. Picked to finish last in the CAA’s pre-season poll, the Tigers won the CAA with a 7-1 mark. Coming into the season, the Tigers had lost 26 of their last 28 CAA games.
The Tigers are just the second team in CAA history to go from “worst to first.” In 1998, James Madison finished last in the league with a 3-8 overall record and a 2-6 league record. One year later, JMU posted an 8-4 overall record and a 7-1 conference mark. The Dukes shared the conference championship with UMass in 1999. In 1997 and 1998, Massachusetts went from 2-9 to 12-3. But UMass didn’t win the CAA in 1998.
“It is tremendously humbling for me to be a part of this,” says the Tigers’ third-year coach. “This is the result of some incredibly hard work by everyone involved – the coaches, the staff, our players, our administration, the students and our fans. This is something that our football alumni have been waiting for.”
The Tigers entered the final weekend of the regular season tied for first place in the CAA with Maine. After their 28-17 win, the Tigers clinched the CAA title outright when New Hampshire edged Maine, 30-27.
Ranked among the Top 25 teams in NCAA FCS for the last eight weeks, the Tigers won the CAA by beating six nationally-ranked conference opponents. After opening the CAA schedule with a 31-10 victory over No. 20 Villanova, the Tigers edged No. 14 Richmond, 31-28. A dramatic 39-35 come-from-behind win over No. 18 Old Dominion enabled the Tigers to improve to 3-0 in the CAA. The Tigers’ 38-27 victory over No. 14 William and Mary gave them a 4-0 CAA record.
After a 35-30 loss to No. 21 Delaware, the Tigers bounced back with wins over No. 7 Maine (40-30) and No. 7 New Hampshire (56-42). They completed their march to the title with their 28-17 win at Rhode Island.
The Tigers have been led by an explosive offense. The Tigers are averaging 239.45 rushing yards per game, the top mark in the CAA. They are ranked ninth in the nation in rushing. Offensively, the Tigers are scoring 34.55 points per game. They are second in the CAA and rank 14th in the NCAA FCS. The Tigers are also second in the CAA with 439.36 yards of total offense per game, the 11th best mark in the nation.
Freshman Terrance West leads the Tigers’ running game. He has rushed for 1,242 yards on 183 carries, second in the CAA. Averaging 124.20 yards per game, he ranks tenth in NCAA FCS. A leading candidate for the Jerry Rice Award, presented to the top freshman in NCAA FCS Football, West has scored 27 touchdowns. His school record 27 touchdowns lead NCAA FCS. West, who had a career high 261-yard performance against New Hampshire, has rushed for more than 100 yards in six of his last seven games. He has scored at least two touchdowns in each of the Tigers’ last seven games.
Named as the CAA Offensive Player of the Week twice this season, West has also been selected as the CAA Rookie of the Week four times.
The play of the Tigers’ offensive line has been vital to the team’s success. Senior tackle Henry Glackin has teamed up with sophomores Eric Pike, Charles Johnson, Randall Harris, Anthony Davis and Doug Shaw to provide the Tigers with outstanding line play.
Sophomore quarterback Grant Enders has excelled as the leader of the Tiger offense all season. Named as the Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Week twice this season, Enders has completed 153 of 224 passes for 1,867 yards and 14 touchdowns. With a 151.8 passing efficiency rating, he is second in the CAA and ranks 11th in NCAA FCS. Averaging 224.6 yards of total offense per game, Enders ranks fourth in the CAA.
Turnover ratio has also been vital to the Tigers’ success this season. During the regular season, the Tigers have compiled a plus-eight turnover ratio, a mark that is third in the CAA behind Old Dominion (plus-ten) and Maine (plus-nine). The Tigers have turned the ball over 16 times while forcing 24 turnovers. The Tigers have thrown ten interceptions and only lost six fumbles. The Tigers have recovered 11 fumbles and intercepted 13 passes.
A pair of linebackers, junior Alexander DiSanzo and freshman Kenton Powell, are tied for the team lead with three interceptions. This is noteworthy because the Tigers only intercepted two passes in the 2010 season. DiSanzo is fourth on the team with 64 tackles while Powell has 54 tackles and is sixth on the team. Junior safety Jordan Dangerfield, senior safety Nick Oates and freshman cornerback Tye Smith each have two interceptions.
Dangerfield leads the Tiger defense with 82 tackles in nine games. He is eighth in the CAA with 9.1 tackles per game. Junior linebacker Danzel White issecond on the team with 77 tackles in nine games.
Junior defensive ends Frank Beltre and Romale Tucker have given the Tigers outstanding play on the line. While Tucker leads all CAA defensive linemen with 69 tackles in 11 games, Beltre is fourth with 63 tackles. A member of the Pre-Season All-CAA team, Beltre leads the Tigers with 11 tackles for lost yardage. He is also the team leader with four quarterback sacks. Tucker has made 3.5 sacks and is tied for the team lead with two fumble recoveries.
Tickets for the Tigers’ NCAA FCS playoff game against Lehigh are currently on sale by calling 1-855-TUTIGER (888-4437).