The Towson football team's unexpected turnaround season came to a close with a 31-10 loss to Duquense in the opening round of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. In its first playoff game in five years, Towson did not enjoy much of a home field advantage dealing with pouring down rain and an almost non-existent home crowd. After taking an early 10-0 lead, the Tigers gave up 31 unanswered points to the Dukes.
Here are five things we learned:
1. Towson can bend, not break opposing defenses.
The Tigers' offense is dynamic. Quarterback Tom Flacco is one of the most promising signal callers in the program's history. It's no secret that Flacco and the Towson offense are almost singularly responsible for the team's unexpected success in 2018. But when it mattered most, Towson could not make the most of its scoring chances. Against the Dukes, the Tigers made three trips to the red zone but could score just twice on the day.
A handful of mistakes made the difference for an offense that averaged 36.7 points in the regular season -- most notably, a holding call that negated a Shane Simpson rushing touchdown early in the second quarter and a Simpson fumble on the Duquense 2-yard-line on the following drive.
"When you get to the half-inch line, and give them the ball, it doesn't get any worse," Towson head coach Rob Ambrose said.
2. One of the few times Ambrose did not go for it on fourth down, it may have cost him the game.
Ambrose, now in his 10th season, has never been shy in his attempts at fourth-down conversions. Towson attempted 20 fourth-down conversions in 2018 (second most in the Colonial Athletic Association) and converted nine of those attempts (tied for first in the CAA). But with a bit more than a minute left in the first half, facing fourth-and-5 on the Duquense 36-yard-line, Ambrose had the offense take a delay of game penalty to back the Tigers up to the 41-yard-line and punted.
The punt would result in a touchback and netted Towson just 21 yards in field position. The Dukes would then close the half with a nine-play, 65-yard drive that resulted in a field goal just before the half and their first points of the game. Duquense rode that momentum to score 31 unanswered points.
"When you're playing in trash weather like this, it's a field position game,” Ambrose said. "I don't second guess it at all. I wish we would've gotten down and downed the ball inside the five instead of letting it roll, but we didn't do that and we've done a good job of that all year."
3. Tom Flacco is no Joe.
The brothers Flacco share very few similarities on the field. Aside from their success stories as transfer players to FCS schools, Tom Flacco is a dynamic playmaker while his brother, Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco, is a stoic pocket passer with one of the best deep balls in all of football.
Tom, the 2018 CAA offensive player of the year, was the center of the Tigers' offensive renaissance in 2018. But with heavy rain all throughout the late November afternoon, the younger Flacco brother struggled to make most every throw, completing just 10 of 33 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown.
4. Duquense outgained Towson 206 yards to 30 in the third quarter.
Riding high on the momentum they built going into the locker room at halftime, the Dukes outclassed the Tigers to start the second half. While the Towson offense struggled to stay on the field, Duquense pounded the Tigers' defense on the ground with 16 rushes for 107 yards. The Dukes scored on three of their four offensive possessions and held the ball for more than nine minutes.
"Them getting points before the half gave them a little momentum," Ambrose said. "The difference was the first drive of the third quarter. We did not stop them, period. We gave up big plays and we got the ball run down our throat the entire second half. So they got momentum and they pushed us around."
5. Towson must and will be a contender in 2019
Towson was picked to finish 10th of 12 in the CAA. Instead, the Tigers finished tied for third and earned one of six playoff bids in the conference. With Flacco returning for his redshirt senior year, the Tigers are in position to make another playoff run in 2019. But with just one more year of eligibility for his starting quarterback and just one playoff appearance since his last contract extension, the next few seasons may be a true test for Ambrose. The Towson alum who resurrected the program from obscurity now faces an even tougher challenge of remaining a legitimate contender in the stacked CAA.
Photo Credit: ENP Photography
This has been updated.