Towson at #3 Eastern Washington 2013 FCS Playoffs Semifinal Game Breakdown

George Hammond

Towson at #3 Eastern Washington 2013 FCS Playoffs Semifinal Game Breakdown


Towson at #3 Eastern Washington, 2 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU)

Break out the clichés because it appears the winner of Saturday’s FCS semifinal between Towson (12-2) and Eastern Washington (12-2) in Cheney, Washington, could be determined by the granddaddy of all clichés: Whichever team commits the fewest turnovers will win. Certainly not an earth-shattering statement but the way Towson and Eastern Washington put points on the board, it figures to be appropriate.

The winner of Saturday’s contest advances to Frisco, Texas, for the FCS national championship on Jan. 4. For Eastern Washington, a 35-24 winner over Jacksonville State on Saturday, this is the Eagles’ third Final Four appearance in four years. They won the national title in 2010 when they defeated Villanova, 41-31, in the semifinals then rallied to stun Delaware, 20-19, in the national championship. EWU could face back-to-back CAA opponents again if New Hampshire were to upset No. 1 North Dakota State in the other semifinal. No. 7 seed Towson, meanwhile, punched its ticket to the semifinals with a 49-39 quarterfinal-round victory Friday night at No. 2 seed Eastern Illinois.

“That says a lot about our program (three Final Fours),” said EWU coach Beau Baldwin. “It is hard to do, and I am proud of everyone that is a part of it. It expands well beyond the program itself. To do something like that consistently you have to have a certain mindset, a certain attitude and a certain mentality. We have that in our locker-room with our guys, and it is exciting.

“Every game, especially in December, is going to have a different feel to it. We talk about that a lot in team meetings. There might be games that are smooth and rhythmic. There might be other games that are defensive battles. We consistently are able to make adjustments and find ways to win in whatever ball game it is. To do that is tougher than you might think. We found different ways to win this game than we did a week ago. Who knows what kind of game we will be in next week.”

The fact that both teams made it this far isn’t surprising as EWU and Towson were among those mentioned in the preseason as possible Final Four participants. The Eagles surprised FBS Oregon State, 49-46, in the season opener and their only two losses came against Toledo (21-33) and Sam Houston State (34-49). With Saturday’s quarterfinal victory, EWU has won ten consecutive games.

Among Towson’s victories are a 33-18 triumph over FBS Connecticut and a 44-28 victory over New Hampshire. Its only two losses came against Villanova (35-45) and Delaware (31-32) so both have impressive bodies of work.

Here are the story lines for this game:

* If Towson can beat the Ohio Valley Conference’s top team, Eastern Illinois, shouldn’t it be able to handle Eastern Washington – a team that was tied 21-21 against the OVC’s third-place team Jacksonville State? Plus, Jacksonville State saw its starting quarterback leave with a knee injury just before the half and its top rusher exit with a thigh injury in the third quarter.

Granted, you can’t always go by comparative scores, but in this case, the weekend results indicate Towson is capable of going to the West Coast and winning on the road.

* Speaking of travel, how will the Tigers handle their back-to-back long journeys? It will be difficult, but Towson caught a break in that its game with Eastern Illinois was on Friday night, giving the Tigers an extra day unlike the plight of New Hampshire where the Wildcats played on Saturday night and now must face North Dakota State on Friday night. Towson is 8-0 on the road this year, but ....

* ... Eastern Washington doesn’t lose at “The Inferno,” the name given to Roos Stadium, which, of course, features red turf. The Eagles are 24-3 all-time there.

* Towson spotted Eastern Illinois a 14-0 lead before mounting a comeback. It doesn’t want to do that again and spot quarterback Vernon Adams and company a two-touchdown lead this weekend. EWU’s offensive numbers are just as mind-boggling as Eastern Illinois’ numbers were. The Eagles are No. 4 nationally in total offense (530.1 ypg), No. 4 in passing offense (346.6 ypg) and sixth in scoring (40.1 points).

Adams threw for 324 yards and two touchdowns against Jacksonville State as he moved into third place in FCS history in total offense with 5,140 yards. He has 53 TD passes this season, good for third all-time in FCS. He did, however, throw two key interceptions against Jacksonville State.

Meanwhile, Towson running back Terrance West had a pretty fair game himself against Eastern Illinois. West, a junior, rushed for an FCS playoff record 354 yards and five touchdowns on 39 carries. West broke a 14-year-old record held by Georgia Southern’s Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 333 yards against Massachusetts in 1999.

“The tailback (West) was fantastic,” Eastern Illinois coach Dino Babers told the media. “But they blocked us. They manned us up. They were very physical.”

The Tigers’ offensive line of four seniors and a freshman did play a pivotal role as it helped Towson turn the momentum after it fell behind quickly. Eastern Illinois had 174 yards in the first quarter en route to that quick two-touchdown advantage.

So how does the game play out?

Eastern Washington will score, and score quickly. The Eagles will try to contain West, but because they’re 104th in total defense, don’t expect it. Adams will get his numbers, as will West, so it comes down to everyone else and the turnovers. Towson will make fewer mistakes and advance to the national championship for the first time.

Projected score: Towson 34, Eastern Washington 31


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