Fargo, ND - Distractions? – Cheney, WA (SportsNetwork.com) - It wasn't the snow that cooled off the Inferno in the fourth quarter of Saturday's FCS semifinal match between Eastern Washington and Towson.
Seventh-seeded Towson's last-minute touchdown scored by substitute quarterback Connor Frazier on a 1-yard keeper gave the Tigers a 35-31 victory and sent the program to its first national title game appearance, and ended the No. 3 seed Eagles' season.
The Tigers (13-2) will face two-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State (14-0) in the championship game on Jan. 4 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
"First of all, I'm extremely proud of my guys - players and staff," Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. "Losing the quarterback (Pether Athens) who has won as many games as he has and who was playing as well as he was playing was probably a little bit of a shock to everybody. Couple that with the fact that Eastern Washington is an amazing football team, it was a monumental challenge, especially emotionally.
"Belief, faith, love, trust, hard work are all pretty powerful things and when you put them all together, and when you do, you can accomplish things that people told you that you couldn't do, no matter what the adversity is. It's a proud day to be a Tiger."
Frazier was in the game after the senior Athens went down with a shoulder injury in the second quarter. Athens returned to the game a few plays after the injury occurred, but came back out for the second half in a sling and street clothes.
The absence of Athens helped the Eagles, who trailed 21-7 at the start of the third quarter. They scored 24 second-half points and 31 unanswered in all to jump ahead, 31-21, on the red turf that they call the Inferno.
That's when Towson battled back.
Terrance West scored on a 3-yard carry with just over five minutes left to play to give the Tigers their first points since early in the second quarter. It was West's second rushing score of the game, and 40th of the 2013 season (his 41 total touchdowns are a new FCS record). He finished the semifinal matchup with 119 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries.
"What records? The main goal is the national championship," West said. "That's the team goal and that's what we came here to do. We didn't come here for my records."
Eagles quarterback Vernon Adams was extremely efficient in the second half, and finished with 394 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception. But on a fourth down deep in Towson territory with over a minute left to play in the contest, Adams overthrew a wide-open Cooper Kupp. What would have been an easy score for Kupp and a game-clincher actually gave the Tigers the ball back on their own 29-yard line.
Frazier, who didn't attempt a second-half pass until the final drive, was 5- for-5 on Towson's game-winning drive, and scored the winning touchdown with 17 seconds left.
"It felt pretty comfortable. It just seemed like we were clicking really well on that drive," Frazier said. "People were finding ways to get open and the line did a great job protecting me the whole drive."
The Eagles got the ball back on their own 27-yard line with 12 seconds to play. Adams heaved up a long pass downfield, which was intercepted by Tigers defensive back Christian Carpenter at Towson's 24-yard line.
"I know the end result is not what your ultimate goal is, but in terms of the way the players competed, stayed together, fought, scrapped and left it on the field, it was all out there," Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin said. "Everyone in that locker room is hurting, but should hold their heads up high."
Towson, from the Colonial Athletic Association, finished the regular season 10-2 and garnered an at-large bid to the postseason as the seventh seed. In two consecutive weeks, the Tigers have knocked off No. 2 Eastern Illinois and No. 3 Eastern Washington on the road. They have won 12 consecutive road games.
Frazier finished 6-of-10 passing for 98 yards, and carried the ball 18 times for 98 yards and a touchdown.
Towson jumped ahead of Eastern Washington, 21-0, on two Athens touchdown passes. The first went to fullback Emmanuel Holder early, then a costly fumble by Kupp was recovered by the Tigers, who marched down the field and scored again, this time on a 1-yard West run.
West leaped over the line, was hit in mid air and spun around, but managed to hang onto the football to secure a two-score lead for Towson. In the second quarter, Athens hit Brian Dowling on a 38-yard touchdown strike to put the Tigers up by three touchdowns.
Eastern scored just minutes later when Adams found a wide-open Forte in the corner of the end zone, which finally put the Eagles on the board.
At the end of the first half, Eastern Washington had several chances at a score from the Towson 1-yard line. Multiple runs yielded no points, and with no timeouts left, Adams tried to sneak a QB keeper in on third down. Towson stuffed Adams shy of the goal line, and the Eagles didn't have enough time to run another play. The stop preserved Towson's two-touchdown lead at halftime.
West had 82 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries midway through the contest, while Athens was 8-of-9 passing for 144 yards and two scores - his final stats. Adams completed 14-of-19 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown through the first two quarters - six to Kupp for 95 yards.
It was Kupp's first game this season without a touchdown reception, ending his streak at 14 games with a touchdown grab. The Jerry Rice Award winner as freshman of the year set new FCS records in freshman touchdown receptions (21), total receptions (93) and receiving yards (1,691). He ended the game with 124 yards on eight receptions.
No. 1 seed New Hampshire (13-0) 52, New Hampshire (10-5) 14
Fargo, NH - North Dakota State has its date with destiny.
And the Bison are giving every indication they will complete their mission in two weeks.
Unbeaten NDSU throttled yet another opponent Friday night, this time red-hot New Hampshire in the semifinal round of the FCS playoffs at a rocking Fargodome.
All that stands between the top-seeded Bison (14-0) and a third straight national title is a victory on Jan. 4 in Frisco, Texas, is seventh-seeded. The Bison are trying to join the 2005-07 Appalachian State teams as the second FCS program to net the consecutive hat trick of national championships.
NDSU will take a 23-game winning streak into the title game, and few probably have been as impressive as the dismantling of New Hampshire.
The visiting Wildcats (10-5) came into the first-ever meeting between the two programs with six straight wins and nine in its last 10 games, and they took the lead in the first two minutes when Steven Thames intercepted NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen and scored on a 38-yard return.
From there, it was basically all NDSU as the Bison rolled off the next 52 points, including 24 in the second quarter to grab a 31-7 halftime advantage.
Jensen redeemed himself in the first quarter with a 50-yard touchdown pass to Zach Vraa (his school-record 14th TD reception) and then he threw two more in the second quarter - a 7-yarder to Derrick Lang and a 20-yarder to Kevin Vaadeland. Leevon Perry also scored on a 7-yard fumble return and Adam Keller kicked a 32-yard field goal in the decisive second quarter.
Jensen finished 11-for-21 for 146 yards with the three touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed for a third-quarter touchdown while gaining his 47th career victory - an FCS record for a quarterback.
Running back John Crockett rushed for 195 yards on only 13 carries, including a 71-yard burst in the third quarter. He went over 1,000 yards for the season, joining Sam Ojuri in the century club for the second straight season. Ojuri, a senior, also was one of two 1,000-yard rushers with D.J. McNorton during the Bison's first FCS national championship season in 2011.
Ojuri scored on a 9-yard run as the Bison extended their lead to 45-7 in the third quarter. He finished with 75 yards in the Bison's 350-yard ground assault.
Chase Morlock scored NDSU's final touchdown on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter.
UNH running back Chris Setian scored on a 1-yard with 29 seconds left in the game - only the second touchdown allowed by the Bison in the fourth quarter this season. Still, the Bison have outscored opponents, 138-35, in three playoff wins.
Linebacker Carlton Littlejohn led the Bison defense with 10 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and three pass breakups.
The national championship game will be Craig Bohl's final game as NDSU's head coach. The Eddie Robinson Award winner for the second straight season accepted the University of Wyoming job on Dec. 8, but he is coaching with the Bison through the playoffs. Defensive coordinator Chris Klieman will become their head coach after the season.
New Hampshire, in the playoffs for the 10th straight year under head coach Sean McDonnell, was making its first appearance in the national semifinals.
The Wildcats' balanced offense had been averaging 32 points and 450.9 yards per game, but the stingy Bison defense limited them to only 117 yards through the first three quarters and 183 for the game.
Junior R.J. Harris has 33 receiving yards to surpass 1,000 for the season, joining teammate Justin Mello.