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Eastern expects rough and ready Towson

Eastern sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams faces a nasty Towson defense in FCS semifinal on Saturday at Roos Field. (Andy Cripe / Corvallis Gazette-times)
Eastern sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams faces a nasty Towson defense in FCS semifinal on Saturday at Roos Field. (Andy Cripe / Corvallis Gazette-times)

Intangibles – and there will be many of them today at Roos Field – are just that.

None of them will make a tackle or throw a key block in Eastern Washington’s FCS semifinal game against Towson.

As Tiger coach Rob Ambrose said, “That’s for guys with pens and computers.”

It’s also for fans, who are fond of discussing everything from the weather to the 11 a.m kickoff to the Eagles’ hefty playoff experience compared with Towson’s.

And of course, they feel the need to bring up the Eagles’ semifinal loss last year to Sam Houston State – the product, more than anything, of an abysmal start.

As if the Eagles wanted to trail 35-0 at halftime.

“It wasn’t a lack of focus,” Eastern coach Beau Baldwin recalled. “I think if anything, we were wanting to press and make plays.”

Against a confident, road-tested Towson team that thrives in adversity, the third-ranked Eagles (12-2) will have to make plenty of plays to advance to the FCS championship game against either North Dakota State or New Hampshire on Jan. 4.

A few keys:

- Bring enough helmets to the line of scrimmage to slow Towson’s superb running back, Terrance West;

- Limit the open-field running opportunities of quarterback Peter Athens;

- Win the battle on the edge for running back Quincy Forte;

0- Limit mistakes, or at least stay even in the turnover battle.

West, the leading rusher (2,295 yards) and scorer (38 TDs) in the nation, is priority No. 1 for the Eagle defense, which two weeks ago shackled South Dakota State’s Zach Zenner and forced a running team to throw.

“He’s one of the best running backs I’ve seen since I’ve coached at this level, Baldwin said. “He’s very effective inside, but he can hit home runs.”

West can expect a variety of blitzes, which also should limit the options for senior quarterback Peter Athens, who already has lost top receivers Leon Kinnard and Spencer Wilkins to injury.

“He does his job and a lttle bit more, keeps us motivated doesn’t make any mistakes,” Towson linebacker Monte Gaddis said of Athens.

The acknowledged leader of the Tiger offense, Athens (224-350 for 17 TDs and 12 interceptions), also is a plausible running threat, and has been sacked just 10 times. For that Athens can thank senior tackle Eric Pike, a first-team All-American.

With West and Athens, the Tigers (12-2) rank third in the nation in third-down conversions (86 for 172). West not only sets up play action, but helps keep opposing offenses off the field.

However, Towson has struggled in the red zone, scoring only 56 of 72 chances.

“The stats may not always show that, but he can do some good things,” Baldwin said. “You have to have your eyes right.

“You still have to have your eyes right, they’re not a one-person outfit – you can’t get this far by being that way,” Baldwin said.

On the other side of the ball, Towson is led by elite defensive end Ryan Delaire, who leads the team with 17 ½ tackles for loss and 11 ½ sacks. Senior linebackers Gaddis (131 tackles) and Telvion Clark (110) are another reason the Tigers hold opponents to 3.3 yards per rush, or 12th best in FCS.

It doesn’t hurt that Towson has two excellent cover corners, including senior Jordan Love, a second-team All-American with excellent range, according to Baldwin.

They’ll be tested by Adams, the most efficient passer in the nation, and also a major running threat.

“They’re extremely talented on offense,” Ambrose said.

Perhaps it will come down to an intangible that won’t be known until kickoff: the weather. Snow on Friday is expected to give way to partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the high 30s.

And if it snows, as it did all day Friday? “We’re built for bad weather,” Ambrose said.