FRISCO, Texas -- They have an All-American running back, a seasoned offensive line and a backup quarterback who stepped in and led them to their biggest win to date. But for the Towson Tigers, having Peter Athens back at quarterback could be the key in the FCS national championship game against the North Dakota State Bison.Athens’ quick release and accurate passing is the perfect complement to Towson’s power running game, spearheaded by Walter Payton Award finalist Terrance West.
“We’ll have a chance to be as versatile as we have been,” Towson head coach Rob Ambrose said. “Everybody talks about stacking the box against us. Pete’s going to throw it when that happens.”
A fifth-year senior, Athens has completed 228 of 353 passes for 3,194 yards and 19 touchdowns in 15 games. In the playoffs, he was 29 of 37 for 560 yards and five TDs before going down with a shoulder injury in the semifinals against Eastern Washington.
Connor Frazier stepped in and helped guide the Tigers to their first national title game appearance.
“We all felt bad that Pete went down, but we also all knew we had to pull together and win this football game if we wanted to go on to the national championship,” Frazier said.
For Athens, what was originally feared to be a broken collarbone instead was a No. 2 AC sprain to his right throwing shoulder. A week off between games and time with the training staff paved the way for his return.
“I feel ready to go,” said Athens, who was 8 of 9 for 144 yards and two touchdowns against Eastern Washington at the time of the injury. “I’m in a little bit of pain but that’s not really a big deal. I’m playing for a national championship.
“What’s at stake for this game will be much more important than my shoulder. Once the game starts and the atmosphere’s there and the adrenaline’s going, I don’t think I’ll have a problem with it.”
No one on Towson is surprised Athens will be under center come game time.
“Peter is our guy and he’s a tough guy and if he says he’ll be out there, he’ll be out there,’’ said left guard Anthony Davis, a fifth-year senior.
Athens was injured running the ball but said he won’t change his approach to prevent another injury.
“I can’t be scared to get hit,” he said. “If I’m scared to get hit I’ll be worrying about it. I don’t want to be doing that. I’m going to play how I know how to play. If something happens, then something happens. I’m telling the coaches I’m ready to go so I need to play that way.”
Athens said he’ll also play within himself and not try to do too much against North Dakota State’s No. 1-ranked defense.
“Coach talks about it all the time. You got to do your one-eleventh and that’s all you can do,” Athens said. “That’s what I try to focus on. I know everyone else does on the offense. When we do that, the rest kind of takes care of itself. If you do too much, that’s when you get in trouble and get away from what you do well.”
Athens said it’s been fun soaking in the championship atmosphere and the game itself will add another element to that.
“It’s a game that not many people get to play in and it’s going to be an exciting moment to be able to experience playing in the national championship game,” said Athens, who admitted he has nerves before every game. “Once that first ball is snapped, it goes away and it’s just another football game.”
One for all the marbles that Towson hopes to take home.
“We’ve had a great season,” Athens said. “We’ve played well enough to get to the national championship game so I’m thankful that we’re here but there’s one more game to go so we’re not done yet.”