Arrow-right Camera

Eastern takes on Towson in FCS semifinal

Vernon Adams, the nation’s most efficient passer and a major running threat, leads EWU against Towson. (Colin Mulvany)
Vernon Adams, the nation’s most efficient passer and a major running threat, leads EWU against Towson. (Colin Mulvany)

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 Tigers 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 said. “I think if anything, we were wanting to press and make plays.”

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

A few keys for EWU:

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

• Limit the open-field running opportunities of senior quarterback Peter Athens.

• Win the battle on the edge for Eagles running back Quincy Forte.

• 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 Eagles 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 Athens, who already has lost top receivers Leon Kinnard and Spencer Wilkins to injury.

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

Athens (224-of-350 passing 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 on only 56 of 72 chances.

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

“They’re not a one-person outfit – you can’t get this far by being that way.”

On the other side of the ball, Towson is led by elite defensive end Ryan Delaire, who leads the team with 17½ tackles for loss and 11½ sacks. Senior linebackers Gaddis (131 tackles) and Telvion Clark (110) are another reason the Tigers hold opponents to 3.3 yards per rush, 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.