By Jordan Kendall, Assistant Sports Editor
Photo by Alexis Brown / The Towerlight
Towson celebrated its 50th season of Tiger football with a convincing 44-27 win over The Citadel Saturday afternoon in its home opener at Johnny Unitas Stadium.
The No. 25 Tigers (3-1), nationally ranked for the first time since 2014, invited several former players back to celebrate the occasion. As the student section formed a sea of gold from the pregame t-shirt giveaway, the Tigers entered the stadium sporting throwback gold uniforms to the cheers of over 7,000 fans.
Redshirt junior quarterback Tom Flacco got off to a hot start, completing an 18-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Jabari Allen. Flacco followed this up with two huge runs of 14 and 21 yards. He capped off the drive with a 29-yard touchdown pass to redshirt senior wide receiver Sam Gallahan to put Towson up 7-0.
The Citadel (1-3) looked to respond with some option plays, but senior linebacker Diondre Wallace and redshirt senior defensive back Monty Fenner each sniffed out those plays.
The Bulldogs were forced to punt, but pinned Towson within 10 yards of their own end zone. On the first play of the drive, sophomore running back Kobe Young ran up the middle for 12 yards to get Towson out of danger, but the team was forced to punt later in the drive.
A facemask penalty on the ensuing punt gave Citadel possession at midfield.The Bulldogs were able to march down the field, but had to settle for a 30-yard field goal to get on the board.
On Towson’s next possession, Flacco ignited the crowd with a 43-yard completion to Allen, but he silenced them just as quickly with a forced pass to his receiver resulting in an interception.
The Bulldogs cruised past the Tigers to begin the second quarter, picking up multiple first downs. Eventually, Towson’s defense forced a 4th and 2 near the red zone and Fenner stuffed the run play to force a turnover on downs.
Flacco capitalized of the turnover as he broke off a 57-yard run cutting across the entire field all the way to the opposing goal line. He continued to use his legs to his advantage, getting the right corner of the endzone for a touchdown to put Towson up 14-3.
The Tigers continued to build momentum as Fenner notched an interception off a deflected pass on their next defensive possession, putting the offense in scoring position.
Redshirt junior running back Shane Simpson was a big contributor on the ensuing drive with two rushes and two catches in the flat, setting the Tigers up at the goal line. Flacco continued to dominate on the ground, leaping over a defender and stretching the ball across the plane for his second rushing touchdown of the game.
Junior quarterback Jordan Black responded with a rushing touchdown of his own to cut the deficit to 21-10 with under minutes left before halftime.
Looking to score before the break, Flacco found Gallahan to push the ball past midfield. After a few short completions and a Simpson run to the 19 yard line, junior kicker Aiden O’Neill notched a season-long 40-yard field goal to give Towson a 24-10 lead heading into halftime.
The Tigers came out of halftime determined to extend their lead, feeding Simpson for moderate gains.
Right after “Black and Yellow” played over the loudspeaker, the black and yellow found the end zone again as Simpson ran 34 yards and got to the right corner to give Towson a 21-point advantage. This was the fourth longest play for the team this year.
Junior running back Lorenzo Ward answered with a 38-yard touchdown run for Citadel, but redshirt junior wide receiver Brent Richardson hauled in a 24-yard touchdown to keep the Tigers comfortably ahead. This is the third time this season that the Tigers have scored at least 30 points.
The crowd was into it, but were quickly silenced by Black’s second touchdown run of the game from 42 yards. They quickly got right back into it, erupting as Flacco ran down the left sideline avoiding two sacks to get to the goal line.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Ryan Stover came in for a wildcat package, but the trickery didn’t work and Towson settled for a field goal to make it 41-24.
Stover relieved Flacco in the fourth quarter, and Flacco received a roaring ovation from the crowd as he left the field. Flacco ran for 185 yards, the most for a Towson quarterback in one game and also the most for a Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) quarterback, breaking Connor Frazier’s record from 2013 with Elon.
The Tigers finished the game with 608 yards of total offense en route to a win.
Head Coach Rob Ambrose has been impressed by Flacco this season and feels confident moving forward.
“He’s doing in games what he does in practice, not all players can do this,” Ambrose said.
He also recognized the importance of the No. 25 ranking that came out before the game, but has bigger plans for this season.
“It’s great for the fans and great to be noticed, but where you’re ranked in September doesn’t matter,” Ambrose said. “It’s where your ranked in November that counts.”
Next, the Tigers turn their attention to the Oct. 6 matchup at home against Stony Brook on Saturday afternoon. Game time is set for 4 p.m. at Johnny Unitas Stadium.