Charleston, IL (SportsNetwork.com) - Towson went west to Eastern Illinois for the FCS national quarterfinals Friday night.
Make that Towson followed Terrance West to an upset victory.
The junior tailback rushed for a playoff-record 354 yards as well as five touchdowns to earn the seventh-seeded Tigers a 49-39 win at second-seeded Eastern Illinois and their first-ever berth in the semifinals.
The game was billed as a battle of top Walter Payton Award finalists between West and national passing leader Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois. Each hopes to have his name called Monday night as the outstanding player in the FCS, as does Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams.
If third-seeded Eastern Washington can beat Jacksonville State in a national quarterfinal on Saturday, it would host Towson (12-2) and its amazing 5- foot-11, 223-pound tailback next weekend for the semifinals.
Garoppolo came up big as usual Friday night, finishing 38-of-50 for 321 yards and two touchdowns but with three turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble). He also rushed for two touchdowns.
But West, the 2011 Jerry Rice Award winner as the national freshman of the year, enjoyed his biggest game ever on snow-covered O'Brien Field. He averaged over nine yards on his 39 carries as Towson posted its 11th straight road win, including eight this season.
Neither team had much fun defending the other in the offensive showcase - also the first-ever meeting between the two programs.
Towson, from CAA Football, took its first double-digit lead at 35-24 on West's fourth touchdown run, a 5-yarder with 1:13 left in the third quarter.
But Eastern Illinois quickly responded on Garoppolo's 39-yard touchdown pass to an open tight end Jeff LePak in the Towson end zone at the 14:35 mark of the fourth quarter. When Garoppolo connected on a 2-point conversion to wide receiver Erik Lora, the Panthers pulled within 35-32.
But that the was the closest the Ohio Valley Conference champion got again.
EIU later punted from its end zone, and that set up short field position for Towson at the Panthers' 42. West broke off a 37-yard run on the second play of their ensuing drive and freshman Darius Victor scored from 3 yards out on the next play to push the Tigers' lead back to double digits, 42-32 with 9:53 left.
Following a Garoppolo fumble that was recovered by Towson's Syd Holt at the EIU 22, the Tigers put the game away on West's fifth touchdown from 3 yards out. The TD tied his career high as well as the FCS single-season record of 39, first set by Delaware's Omar Cuff in 2007.
Most opponents don't survive an early onslaught from Eastern Illinois, but Towson did after the Panthers scored touchdowns on their first two drives. It pushed their first-quarter scoring advantage to 257-38 this season.
But the Tigers scored 21 unanswered points in the second quarter to take a halftime lead. West scored on a pair of runs, including a 63-yard bolt along the EIU sideline to give the Tigers the 21-14 lead with 4:39 left in the half.
It marked the first time EIU trailed at halftime since its only other loss to Northern Illinois back on Sept. 21.
The loss to Towson was EIU's first against an FCS opponent this season. The visiting Tigers were seeded seventh in the playoffs despite finishing the regular season with a No. 5 national ranking.
West went over 2,000 rushing yards for the season. The FCS rushing leader has 2,305 yards.
Garoppolo finished his season with FCS passing highs of 374 completions (a national single-season record), 5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns.
Lora caught 18 passes for 129 yards and one touchdown. He set the OVC career record with 4,006 receiving yards.