VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Before last season, the Towson Tigers had lost 17 straight games to ranked teams, including three to the Villanova Wildcats by a combined score of 126-45. Last year's matchup, a 31-10 Towson win on its home field in Maryland, was one of six victories over ranked teams for the Tigers as they went on to win the league championship.
This year, Towson had dropped its only two games against ranked teams, including a 31-20 loss to Old Dominion last week that put all hopes of a repeat on life support -- but the Tigers aren't quite dead yet.
In a matchup of ranked Colonial Athletic Association title contenders, No. 23/25 Towson (4-4, 3-2 CAA) put on an offensive showcase, scoring at will and figuring out how to stop No. 19/23 Villanova (6-3, 4-2) after halftime in a 49-35 victory that kept the Tigers' CAA title hopes alive.
"I love my team," Towson coach Rob Ambrose said afterwards. "For this year's team, in the bigger picture, it means one step closer to our goal ... but in a much bigger perspective, for every kid in our locker room, this win defines 'team.' If you don't care about yourself, if all you care about is your teammate, you can do amazing things."
Towson senior quarterback Grant Enders threw for 269 yards and four scores and the Tigers racked up 590 yards overall, turning the ball over one time and punting three times but otherwise playing a nearly flawless offensive game against a Wildcats defense that could do little to stop them.
"We were executing as a whole, and it was really good to see," Enders said. "Taking advantage of each drive, our defense put us in good situations, and for us to capitalize on that is something we've been looking to do all year."
One of seven ranked teams in the CAA, Towson's record is certainly deceiving due to losses to FBS squads Kent State and Louisiana State, plus ranked FCS conference opponents James Madison and Old Dominion. The Wildcats' loss means they have work to do to catch New Hampshire (7-2, 5-1) and two other teams (James Madison, Old Dominion) that only have one conference defeat.
"I think Towson was a product of their schedule," Villanova coach Andy Talley said. "They played two tough Division I teams, they're a very physical team, and their record is very, very misleading -- which our team knew coming in.
"I think that they proved that today."
Villanova's normally potent rushing offense, which had gained more than 200 yards in seven of the Wildcats' eight games so far this season, picked up just 132 yards. Redshirt freshman quarterback John Robertson, a dual threat who had a season-high 189 rushing yards in one game, picked up just 27 yards with his feet despite 21 carries (a 1.3 average).
"We're not built right now to score 35 points and then go back and forth with the other team, 35-35, et cetera," Talley said. "That's just not who we are. We're not ready to do that. We're a ball-control team ... break the other team down, get a little advantage and control the ball, and they wouldn't let us."
The Wildcats started the scoring less than three minutes into the first quarter, moving 75 yards in a very efficient seven plays on an opening drive that culminated with Kevin Monangai taking a Robertson screen pass 33 yards into the end zone for a 7-0 lead. Towson answered quickly, going 65 yards in 1:58 and evening it up on a 48-yard touchdown run by Terrance West.
That set up a wild first half that saw nine touchdowns and over 600 yards of total offense. Towson was up by as much as 28-14 with possession of the football before Enders threw his only interception of the game four minutes into the second quarter. After Villanova came back to tie the game at 28, the Tigers ended the half with an 11-yard Enders touchdown pass to take a 35-28 lead into the intermission.
NOTES: West, the CAA's preseason Player of the Year, missed the loss to Old Dominion last week due to a death in his family ... Villanova came into the game allowing an average of 337 yards per game. Towson had 328 in the first half alone ... Enders' four TDs were a personal best, one more than the three he had against Morgan State last season; his 78-yard pass to West was also a career best as were his 103 rushing yards ... Monangai (17 carries, 103 yards) became the first Villanova player since Brian Westbrook in 2001 to have three consecutive 100-yard rushing games.