(5) Towson (12-2) at (3) Eastern Washington (12-2)
The Sports Network
By Brandon Lawrence, FCS Assistant
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 21, 2:05 p.m. (ET).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Roos Field (8,600) -- Cheney, Washington. Surface: Red Sprinturf. Television: ESPN U. Announcers: Mark Neely, Jay Walker. Home Record: Towson 4-2; Eastern Washington 7-0. Away Record: Towson 8-0; Eastern Washington 5-2. Series Record: First meeting. Conference: Towson - Colonial Athletic Association; Eastern Washington - Big Sky. Nicknames: Towson Tigers; Eastern Washington Eagles. Sports Network FCS Ranking: Towson (5); Eastern Washington (3). NCAA Playoff Seedings: Towson (7); Eastern Washington (3). Head Coaches: Towson - Rob Ambrose (fifth season, 31-28 at Towson; sixth season, 34-35 overall); Eastern Washington - Beau Baldwin (sixth season, 56-21 at Eastern Washington; seven seasons, 66-24 overall). Playoff Records: Towson (2-1); Eastern Washington (13-8). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Towson 1 (2011); Eastern Washington 9 (1985, 1992, 1997, 2004-05, 2007, 2009-10, 2012 - 2010 FCS Champions). Current Playoff Streak: Towson has won its last two playoff games; Eastern Washington has won eight of its last nine playoff appearances. Current Win Streak: Towson 4W; Eastern Washington 10W. Record vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: Towson (3-0); Eastern Washington (3-1).
GAME NOTES: This Saturday's matchup with Eastern Washington will mark the third straight playoff game for Towson in which the Tigers have faced a team averaging more than 37 points per game.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, that's the way the bracket came together and the scenarios played out.
Fortunately for Towson, that hasn't stopped the Tigers from simply outplaying the opposition.
Towson scored 48 points to bury Fordham in the FCS second round, then 49 to take down No. 2 seed Eastern Illinois and Walter Payton Award winner Jimmy Garoppolo. The Tigers, led by standout running back Terrance West, will have another potent offense and a star quarterback to contend with this weekend.
Eastern Washington survived a tight first half with Jacksonville State last weekend to win, 35-24, and advance to host the semifinals for a second consecutive year. Led by sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams and highlighted by standout receivers Cooper Kupp (the Jerry Rice Award-winning freshman of the year), Ashton Clark and Shaquille Hill, along with running back Quincy Forte, this Eagles team is averaging 40.1 points per game.
And that total will be needed to keep pace with West and the Tigers. In fact, West was nearly a one-man offense (OK, he had some great help from his offensive linemen) in the win over Eastern Illinois. West rushed for a playoff-record 354 yards and five touchdowns, while the Tigers gained 472 yards on the ground - good for the fourth-best single-game total by any FCS team this season. Towson scored seven times rushing against the Panthers.
West's likely eventual successor, freshman Darius Victor, carried the ball 11 times for 80 yards and a touchdown Friday night. So it isn't just West for whom the Eagles to game plan.
And for the Tigers to "limit" Garoppolo to 321 passing yards and two touchdowns (he also had two rushing scores) shows that this defense is up to the challenge of at least slowing down the star opposing signal caller.
Against Jacksonville State, the Eagles' defense struggled early to shut down redshirt freshman quarterback Eli Jenkins. The Gamecocks' dual-threat passer already had over 100 passing yards and 100 rushing yards before he left the game just before halftime with a knee injury.
But when it came time for the defense to step up, it was freshman linebacker Albert Havili who jumped in front of a Max Shortell slant pass, intercepting it and returning it 77 yards for the game-clinching score.
Eastern Washington's offense is scary good, but Towson's is playing just as well. There's no doubt this game will come down to defense and which team can come up with clutch turnovers or key stops in crunch time. Eastern Washington's inability to slow Jacksonville State down in the first half last weekend will likely have West itching to get out on the Inferno and start running.
Who knows what would've happened had Jenkins not suffered a knee injury last weekend, but the Eagles can't bank on injuries to get through to Frisco.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Towson 42, Eastern Washington 37.
12/18 13:26:14 ET