Eastern, meet West.
On Monday morning, Towson coach Rob Ambrose was asked why Tigers running back Terrance West should win the Walter Payton Award, the top individual honor in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Ambrose paused, then pounced.
“You mean this is an actual question, that there’s somebody out there who doesn’t think he should win?” Ambrose shot back during the Colonial Athletic Association’s weekly media teleconference.
“If he doesn’t win, there is something wrong with how we tabulate the ballots,” said Ambrose, whose Tigers face Eastern Washington in an FCS semifinal game Saturday at Roos Field.
Seconds later, a CAA representative informed Ambrose that the ballots had been counted three weeks prior, long before West ran for an FCS-record 354 yards in a quarterfinal win last week at Eastern Illinois.
Ambrose gave a disdainful laugh and a parting shot.
“Then those people are going to look pretty funny,” he said.
Sure enough, West finished third behind quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois and Vernon Adams of Eastern Washington.
They probably don’t look as funny as the defenders West has left in his wake en route to an FCS-best 2,295 yards and 38 touchdowns this season. A versatile 5-foot-11, 223-pound junior from Baltimore, he also averages 6.3 yards per carry and has 215 receiving yards.
“After watching him, he’s as good as any running back I’ve ever seen in my career here at Eastern,” EWU coach Beau Baldwin said.
West and Towson made history in 2011. West ran for 1,294 yards to earn the inaugural Jerry Rice Award, given to the top freshman in FCS. That also marked the Tigers’ first FCS playoff game, a 40-38 loss to Lehigh that only whetted the program’s appetite for more.
West ran for 1,046 yards last year, then burst onto the national scene in this year’s opening game, a 33-18 win at FBS school Connecticut.
“From the beginning of the game I saw we could handle them,” said West, who ran for 156 yards and two scores against the Huskies.
The ability of West and the savvy of senior quarterback Peter Athens have been the keys this season. The Tigers are 12-2 after winning the first two playoff games in school history, including a 49-39 victory at Eastern Illinois.
“Dang, he’s good,” Eastern linebacker Albert Havili said of West. “He hits holes, runs hard, and he’s going to be physical.”
On a night when their names were up in lights, Adams and EWU teammate Cooper Kupp willingly retreated to the shadows to help a friend.
Kupp already had been named the FCS freshman of the year on Monday morning, and Adams was awaiting the results of the Walter Payton Award when tragedy struck.
Kupp, Adams and safety Allen Brown had joined coach Beau Baldwin and fans at Northern Quest Casino near Spokane for Baldwin’s weekly radio show. Baldwin was discussing the Eagles’ playoff win last weekend over Jacksonville State when Brown, a 2009 Foss High School graduate, received a text message from his family in Tacoma: His older sister had died unexpectedly.
Adams and Kupp took a tearful Brown back to Cheney.
“We’re a team, we’re brothers, and whatever Allen needs, we have his back,” said Adams, the Payton Award runner-up.
Brown was expected back in Cheney on Thursday.