After a trailing 14-0, Eastern Illinois’ defense couldn’t contain the nation’s best running back as Terrance West broke an FCS Playoff record and led the Towson Tigers to a 49-39 victory in the FCS Quarterfinals. West rushed for 351 yards and (five) touchdowns in the win over the second-ranked Panthers.
The first quarter was all Eastern Illinois, who jumped out to the early 14-0 lead something the Panthers had done numerous times this season. The second quarter it was the ground game of Towson who scored the first half’s final three touchdowns to take the lead at the half.
After starting the game with a three and out, Towson’s ground game has started to show itself and was dominated by West. West and the Tigers put up a performance that topped EIU’s rushing defense from a year ago against SDSU that saw the Panthers allowed over 400 yards on the ground. West, who will be with Garoppolo at the Walter Payton presentation Monday night, averaged over nine yards per carry and had a long of 63 yards. The Tigers combined for 474 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground against EIU.
The Panthers offense started strong as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo opened the game 17-19 for 138 yards and a touchdown and finished 38 of 50 for 321 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Erik Lora showed his 2012 self as he has 18 catches for 129 yards and a touchdown. At halftime head coach Dino Babers decided to go to the ground game as Towson’s defense made adjustments to the Panthers passing attack. The adjustments worked in the second half but defensive woes by the Panthers couldn’t be overcome.
With the win Towson advances to take on the winner of tomorrow’s Jacksonville State at Eastern Washington quarterfinal. If Eastern Washington earns the victory, Towson will make the 2,500 cross country flight to the red field of EWU. If Jacksonville State can pull off the upset over the No. 3 Eagles, Towson will host the semifinals.
On the Panthers opening drive, the impact of the snow wasn’t seen as the Panthers put together a 17 play drive that last just under five minutes to score the game’s opening points. The drive saw the Panthers convert two third downs and two fourth downs as Garoppolo found Lora for the 3-yard touchdown score. After a three and out by Towson, the Panthers second score was set up by a 42 yard completion to Adam Drake to get inside the Tigers 15. Garoppolo would cap off the drive with a six-yard touchdown run making it 14-0.
Towson returned to their power running game of West who had success on the drive but would be stopped on fourth down inside the EIU 10.
In the second quarter, after an EIU drive stalled for the first time in the game, West erupted for a 47 yard run on the right side that got the Tigers inside the Panthers 30. The drive would be capped off by West as he powered his way in into the end zone for his 34th rushing touchdown of the year to cut the deficit in half.
After a Panthers three and out, Towson once again went to the ground game with back-up quarterback Connor Frazier taking it from four-yards to tie the game up at 14. After another Towson defensive stop, the Tigers would make it 21 straight points as West erupt midway through the second quarter for a 63-yard touchdown to give the Tigers the 21-14 lead.
Towson looked to possibly blow the game open as they found themselves in the Panthers red zone once again by freshman running back Darius Victor was stripped by Fedney Delphonse who jumped on the fumble. The Panthers looked to regain the momentum as Garoppolo hit Lora on the screen for a gain of 37 yards but receiver Keiondre Gober would fumble it late and end a potential game-tying drive for Eastern Illinois. Towson took the extra possession down the field and looked to kick a 26-yard field goal but it was blocked by Pat Wertz to end the half.
The second half began favorably for the Panthers as Towson fumbled the opening kickoff. With momentum on their side to open the half, the ground game came alive for the first time all night as Shepard Little and Taylor Duncan ran the Panthers down the short field. After a 13-yard run by Duncan, Garoppolo snuck it in for his second rushing touchdown of the game to tie the game at 21.
Towson returned to the ground game on their first offensive possession of the second half with West rushing for 20 yards on 3rd down. After a 29 yard completion from quarterback Peter Athens to receiver Andre Dessenberg, West scored his third touchdown of the game to retake the lead. Looking to answer, the Panthers drove the field quickly once again but Towson stalled the offense inside the red zone forcing the Panthers to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Cameron Berra.
Looking for a defensive stop, the Panthers offense was let down once against by the defense as Towson pounded the ball down the field once again and West scored his fourth touchdown and give the Tigers a 35-24 lead.
Facing only their third fourth quarter deficit, Garoppolo would find Jeff LePak wide open for a 39-yard touchdown pass. EIU converted the 2-point conversion with Lora making a diving grab to cut the lead to 35-32.
After the teams traded three and outs, another long run by West set up a three-yard touchdown by Darius Victor to give the Tigers a 10point lead. Eastern Illinois looking to make a comeback would see their championship aspirations come to an end as Garoppolo would be stripped by Ryan Delaire. With the ball in Panthers territory, the Tigers fed West for his fifth touchdown of the game to hand the Tigers the victory. Eastern Illinois added a touchdown to cut the lead to 10 late in the fourth quarter as redshirt freshman Ryan Meyer scored on fourth and goal.