CHARLESTON – A wind from the south played a factor but a West from Towson ended one of the greatest seasons in Eastern Illinois football history.
Terrance West, who entered the game as the leading rusher and scorer in the Football Championship Subdivision, ran for a playoff record 354 yards and five touchdowns in fourth-ranked Towson's 49-39 quarterfinal playoff win over No. 2 EIU Friday night at a snowy O'Brien Field.
West's 354 yards on 39 carries broke the FCS playoff record set by former Chicago Bear Adrian Peterson who had 333 yards on 38 carries for Georgia Southern in a 1999 game.
“I did?” West asked when told that news in the post game press conference. “Records don't mean anthing. It's winning a national championship.”
That is still within Towson's reach.
An ESPN2 viewing audience saw West and Towson prevail in the duel against EIU quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who completed 38 of 50 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions in his final collegiate game.
Also finishing an outstanding career was Erik Lora, who caught 18 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown while adding the Ohio Valley Conference career record for receiving yards after already holding the mark for receptions.
“Yeah, obviously it's a pretty good accomplishment but I can't catch it if Jimmy doesn't throw it and Jimmy can't throw it if the line doesn't block. But really we couldn't care less about records.”
While votes had already been cast and the Walter Payton Award for the nation's top FCS player is to be announced Monday night at Philadelphia where West and Garoppolo are two of the three finalists, Towson, 12-2, is the one advancing to next week's semifinals against the winner of today's quarterfinal between Eastern Washington and Jacksonville State.
EIU's season ended at 12-2 losing its first home game in Dino Babers' two years a the head coach.
“I've been the head coach here since December of 2011 and this is the first time I've had to talk to the team after losing at home,” Babers said. “It's the first time we haven't sung the school song. It's pretty emotional down there.
This also marked the first time since its 43-39 loss at Northern Illinois the fourth week of the season that EIU was behind in a game.
Trailing 35-24 after West's fourth touchdown of the game and nation's leading 38th of the season, EIU got back within three when Garoppolo found a wide-open Jeff LePak in the end zone for a 39-yard touchdown and then Erik Lora for a two-point conversion with 14:35 remaining.
The Panthers defense forced Towson's first punt of the night but then illegal procedure and illegal formation penalties backed them into a first-and-20 from their 10 leading to their second punt of the game.
When West broke loose for 37 yards leading to Darius Victor's 3-yard touchdown run and Drew Evangelisa added the extra point kick, the Panthers were again behind by 10 with 9:53 to play.
After Garoppolo was sacked and lost a fumble at the EIU 22, West added a 3-yard touchdown run.
The Panthers did not let a 21-14 halftime deficit last long.
On Jordan Love's kickoff to start the third quarter, LeQuince McCall knocked the football loose and Kamu Grugier-Hill recovered on the Towson 36-yard line.
Even with the wind in its favor, EIU stayed on the ground for six plays with Shepard Little getting 27 yards on four carries, Taylor Duncan adding a 13-yard run and Garoppolo sneaking 1-yard for the touchdown.
Cameron Berra's extra-point kick tied things one minute, 45 seconds into the second half.
But Towson answered with the game's first against-the-wind touchdown.
Peter Athens' 29-yard pass down over the middle to Andre Dessenberg was part of a seven-play, 75-yard drive capped by West's third touchdown of the game, this one from 6 yards out putting Towson ahead again.
Eastern got to the Towson 12-yard line before settling for Berra's 28-yard field goal cutting the Panthers' deficit to 28-24.
Towson padded that lead on West's fourth touchdown, a 5-yard run to finish a 10-play 70-yard drive.
Unlike all through the past nine EIU wins, Towson recovered after the Panthers had their typical fast start.
Well, maybe not quite as fast.
The snow may have slowed down the nation's leading offense a bit even with the wind at its back.
Instead of a quick-strike attack, Eastern used four minutes, 47 seconds and 17 plays for a 75-yard touchdown drive on the game's first possession.
That included a fourth-and-5 with Garoppolo hitting a well-covered Lora for 6 yards and a first down and then a fourth-and-3 with Adam Drake's 9-yard reception for a first down on the 10.
Then on third-and-goal at the 3, Lora went over the middle for a 3-yard touchdown catch, Garoppolo's 10th completion in 11 passes for 62 yards on the opening drive.
LeQuince McCall came up with a tackle for loss stopping Terrance West on a third-and-4 on Towson's first possession putting EIU's offense in business again.
This time the Panthers needed just 1:27 for a six-play, 63-yard scoring drive.
Garoppolo's 36-yard pass down field to Drake was the big play and then Garoppolo finished things himself avoiding a sack and then juking another defender for a 6-yard run, his third touchdown on the ground this season.
Towson coach Rob Ambrose disagreed with a question asking if this was a slow start for his team.
“It's not a slow start,” Ambrose said. “Did you think we were going to come all the way to Eastern Illinois and shut out the highest scoring team in the country? They had the ball first and they scored.
When the wind advantage shifted to Towson in the second quarter, the momentum did as well.
EIU had to punt on its third possession and then West broke loose for a 47-yard run igniting Towson's five-play, 72-yard drive capped by West's 9-yard touchdown run cutting the Panthers' 14-point lead in half.
Then after Garoppolo's fourth-and-4 pass from the Towson 37-yard line went incomplete, the Tigers running game went back to work.
Actually, Towson's Peter Athens also completed his first pass after three incompletions, a 3-yarder with 9:03 at a point Garoppolo was 20-for-25 for 163 yards.
But maybe most important of all, Athens managed an incomplete pass, eluding Pat Wertz for what would have been a huge loss to keep alive Towson's possession.
The Tigers didn't waste the opportunity.
In a Wildcat formation backup quarterback Connor Frazier took a shotgun snap and ran to his left for a 4-yard touchdown with Drew Evangelsta's extra-point kick tying it.
EIU had to punt again and West then found another gear getting to the outside and outrunning the defense for a 63-yard touchdown putting EIU behind 21-14 with 4:39 left in the first half.
Towson appeared ready to double that but EIU defensive end Fedney Delphonse forced and recovered a fumble on Darius Victor's run to the Panthers' 4-yard line.
Lora's 35-yard reception got EIU out of that hole but Keiondre Gober lost a fumble after a catch at the 44 giving Towson another chance 1:05 before halftime.
The Tigers got to the 9 where they called a timeout with 3.8 seconds on the clock but Pat Wertz blocked Evangelista's 26-yard field goal try keeping the Panthers within seven to end the first half.
At that point West had 191 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries leading Towson to 349 first-half yards of total offense while Garoppolo's 23-for-32 passing accounted for 207 of EIU's 261 yards in that half.
Towson 0 21 14
Eastern 14 0 10
EIU – Erik Lora 3 pass from Jimmy Garoppolo (Cameron Berra kick), 10:13
EIU – Garoppolo 6 run (Berra kick), 7:18
TU – Terrance West 9 run (Drew Evangalista kick), 12:4
TU – Connor Frazier 4 run (Evangalista kick), 6:21
TU – West 63 run (Evangalista kick), 4:39
EIU – Garoppoli 1 run (Berra kick), 13:15
TU – West 6 run (Evangelista kick), 9:52
EIU – FG Berra 28, 6:20
TU – West 5 run (Evangelista kick), 1:13
EIU – Jeff LePak 39 pass from Garoppolo (Lora pass from Garoppolo), 14:35
TU – Darius Victor 3 run (Evangelista kick), 9:53
TU – West 3 run (Evangelista kick), 7:33
EIU – Ryan Meyer 10 run (Berra kick), 3:08
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--- Sixteen maintenance workers were on duty for the game and included four with snowblowers clearing yard lines and hash marks.
Snow began falling after 4 p.m. at Charleston and covered the field within a half hour.
-- For the second straight week the Charleston Fire Department provided warming tents available to fans at the south end of the field.