Lion’s Den Not Enough to Rattle the Tigers’ Cage
Monarchs fall short of victory in a nail biter to the Towson Tigers
Written By: Matthew McCracken
Fourth and 29 from their own 37 yard line, the Towson Tigers are out of time-outs and the Monarchs are leading by three with a 1:07 left in the game. The Tigers’ quarterback, Grant Enders, comes back into the game, steps up in the pocket and delivers a bullet downfield to junior receiver Tom Ryan. Ryan catches it, avoids the initial tackle, and drags a Monarch defender into the end zone for the winning touchdown, putting the Tigers up 39-35.
“Someone once said a team with character will beat a team with more talent. I don’t know anything about all that, but I can tell you my guys have a ton of character. A lot of poise under fire, a lot of fight, they won’t quit, they won’t lay down,” Tigers’ head coach Rob Ambrose said.
The Monarchs were leading by 11 with 3:13 left in the game. Earlier in the quarter, the Tigers had marched the entire length of the field, converting two fourth down conversions. Stuck at fourth and three inside the red zone, the Tigers’ went for their third consecutive fourth down conversion. Aaron Evans, one of the many Monarch defensive backs on the roster, clipped the toe nail of Tigers’ freshman running back Terrance West, turning the ball over on downs.
The game seemed out of reach for the Tigers. The Monarchs had possession of the ball with the clock in their favor. Receiving the ball back at their own 25 yard line with 5:49 remaining, the Tigers’ put together a nine play, 75 yard drive in only two minutes and 40 seconds. Down by four, they converted the two-point conversion to their junior tight end Mike Evans in the right corner of the end zone.
“We were in a zero blitz, in man coverage. They ran a toss pass to the running back, which is challenging enough. We looked like we were in good shape, but the kid just made a heck of a play in the corner of the end zone,” Monarchs’ head coach Bobby Wilder said.
Leading by three, the Monarchs knew the Tigers were going to attempt an onside kick. With their “hands team” out on the field, waiting, the Monarchs felt victory at the tip of their fingers. All that was left to do was control possession of the kick.
“That was an NFL kick. That was a phenomenal kick, up in the air, in great position. Mitchell Castleberry was up as high as he could get, as he had the ball in his hands, he got hit. It wasn’t as if he had an opportunity to pull the ball into a tuck,” Wilder said.
“Based on what we had practiced earlier in the week, we had a good idea of what their scheme might be,” Ambrose said.
Fourth quarter mistakes came back to haunt the Monarchs as they slowly watched what would have been their sixth win, third in the conference, slip away.
“It’s a heartbreaking loss, but as I told the kids in the locker room, this is the CAA,” Wilder said.
Coming into the game, the Monarchs were No. 14 nationally, only allowing opponents 96.33 rushing yards per game while the Tigers ranked No. 11, rushing for 227.6 yards per game.
In the first quarter alone, Towson’s Terrance West scored twice off of a 47 and 54 yard rushes. Old Dominion answered back with their own rush attack in Tyree Lee and Angus Harper. While Lee scored his second touchdown of the year to tie the game at seven in the first, Harper’s 64-yard run in the second quarter is the longest rush in Monarch history. Harper’s rush tied the game at 14 a piece.
“I felt we made big plays as well, you know, Nick [Mayers] had a big run,” Harper said.
Redshirt junior wide receiver Nick Mayers finished the game with seven receptions for 166 yards and one touchdown, a Monarch record for most receiving yards in a game. Mayers’ longest reception was 93 yards from scrimmage at the end of the third quarter, which brought the Monarchs lead to double digits.
“The design of the play was a quick three step slant route. Mayers did a really nice job of recognizing Heinicke out of the pocket and turned up the sideline. It appeared like an out and up, but that was just two kids out there making a play,” Wilder said.
Mayers’ teammate and fellow wide receiver Prentice Gill blocked the whole length of the field during his run, being rewarded at the end with the touchdown. Fumbling at the three yard line, Gill recovered the ball for the Monarchs in the back of the end zone for his second touchdown of the season. His first came earlier in the third off a 14-yard pass from freshman quarterback Taylor Heinicke.
“He was on the other side, he had to run 120 yards to get to the ball. That gave us so much energy and so much emotion,” Wilder said.
Monarchs’ quarterback Heinicke finished the game with 360 yards and three touchdowns. He was 22 of 37 with one interception, which was a desperation throw down field on fourth and 11 with 50 seconds remaining in the game.
The Tigers’ quarterback Enders ended with 314 yards, two touchdowns passing, one rushing, and an interception. The Tigers also rushed for 220 yards on 47 attempts, averaging 4.7 a carry. West contributed to 151 of those yards on 16 carries.
On the defensive side of the ball for the Monarchs, Craig Wilkins finished with 13 tackles, seven solo, a sack and a forced fumble. Defensive back Carvin Powell recorded seven himself, while also intercepting a pass.
Despite the turnovers and momentum swings, the Monarchs didn’t have enough in their tank at the end to hold on to the win.
“They executed when it mattered most, in the clutch. That was the difference. They executed towards the end of the game, and we didn’t,” Monarchs co-captain and linebacker Craig Wilkins said.
Old Dominion (5-2, 2-2) looks to bounce back to the win column on the road against Villanova on Saturday, Oct. 22.
photo taken by Ariella Gould