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Jeff Kolpack, Published December 19 2013

Towson coach says running back should be considered No. 1

FARGO – Eastern Illinois University quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo received the highest individual honor in the FCS this week. He was named the winner of the Walter Payton Award.

It’s considered the FCS’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy in FBS. Garoppolo received 74 out of a possible 147 first-place votes to outdistance Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams and Towson University (Md.) running back Terrance West.

The voting, conducted by The Sports Network, was done by a national panel of sports information directors, broadcasters, reports and other selected dignitaries. The results didn’t exactly sit well with Towson head coach Rob Ambrose, when asked before the vote was released how West stacks up with the award.

West rushed for an FCS playoff-record 354 yards in Towson’s 49-39 win over Eastern Illinois in last Friday’s FCS quarterfinal game.

“You mean this is an actual question?” Ambrose said. “There’s someone in America that doesn’t believe this kid (West) is the No. 1 player? You’re telling me there’s somebody out there who actually believes this? I will tell you that if he doesn’t win the award, where a tailback has more rushing yards in a quarterfinal playoff game than a quarterback has passing yards? And the kid scores five touchdowns. If he doesn’t win the award, there’s something wrong with how it is tabulated and what we’re looking at. That’s a long answer to hell yes he should win.”

Ambrose’s thoughts then turned to the team’s matchup.

“… These people will look really funny when these guys go head-to-head,” he said. “Not only does he win, he wins in the most grandiose fashion in the history of the playoffs. So in the biggest stage and the biggest moment ever, when you have a complete and utter perfect comparison, one completely outshined the other. It’s not a question, it’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. Terrance West is the No. 1 player in the country.”

Third quarter has been key for Towson

Towson has found a secret weapon of sorts before kickoff. Ambrose said his team has won 90 percent of the coin tosses before the game.

He was addressing a question on what some perceive as slow starts by the Tigers. He said because Towson always defers to the second half, its opponents have taken advantage of getting the ball first and scoring.

“That’s how we win games,” Ambrose said. “Having the ball in the third quarter is more important than having the ball in the first quarter.”

By the way, the player who calls the flip for Towson on the road is senior center Doug Shaw.

“He’s going to graduate in January, and he and I had a discussion,” Ambrose joked. “One, trimming your beard. Two, maybe we should go to Atlantic City and play some 50-50 game.”

EWU coach: Consistency big in playoff run

North Dakota State’s last playoff loss was in the 2010 quarterfinals in an overtime loss at Eastern Washington. Both teams have been able to sustain a national presence since.

NDSU is in its fourth straight postseason and Eastern has made it three of the last four years.

“It’s a big picture deal for everybody,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin, “starting with the seniors who build this culture in the locker room and understand how to go through long runs. It’s a collective effort to develop this kind of consistency.”

The Eagles were beaten in the semifinal game at home last year against Sam Houston State. That game will not be forgotten, linebacker Ronnie Hamlin said on the Big Sky Conference teleconference this week.

“Last year’s semifinal didn’t go the way we wanted,” he said, “and I know everybody that was here last year will be thinking about it.”

The Eagles will face a Towson team that won on the road against the No. 2 overall seed Eastern Illinois.

“They’re battle tested,” Baldwin said. “They know how to win on the road. We know it will be tough but we expect it to be tough this time of year.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia