Morgan State's latest football loss was secured when the 727 jetliner chartered by Western Illinois touched down at BWI Airport yesterday at 10:15 a.m.
The Fighting Leathernecks (7-2-1), No. 16 in the I-AA rankings, cruised to a 44-6 victory that didn't reflect the gap between the two teams at Hughes Stadium.
In the first 19 minutes, the Fighting Leathernecks scored on four straight possessions for a 28-0 lead. Then they relaxed and began thinking about next week's Gateway Conference showdown against Northern Iowa, a 57-6 winner over Morgan State on Oct. 5.
Regardless of who wins next week, both Western Illinois and Northern Iowa probably will play in the NCAA Division I-AA tournament.
Morgan State (0-10) is 2-26 since October 1989, and both of the wins came against Division II weakling Cheyney State, which isn't on the schedule this year. The Golden Bears have a chance in their regular season finale next week against Howard, which is only one place higher in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference standings.
But Morgan State coach Ricky Diggs realizes his team needs an upset to avoid the school's first winless season since 1985 and the football program's first ever 0-11 record.
"I don't see where we benefit by playing a team like that," Diggs said of Western Illinois, which is seeking its first NCAA berth since 1988. "They're nationally-ranked and they've got an established program. Everyone knows how far we have to go. The bad thing is that it's a home-and-home contract, and we've got to go to Western Illinois [at Macomb] next year."
Fighting Leathernecks coach Randy Ball, who initiated talks about the schools playing each other, made no attempts to run up the score yesterday before 350 fans. Western Illinois went with reserves on both offense and defense the entire second half.
"We played two of our starting offensive linemen in the second half," Ball said, "and that's because we're red-shirting some younger kids there. We were trying to stay healthy for next week, but we still had two good running backs [including Chuck Fox, a senior from Lanham] go down with injuries."
Eddie Hill intercepted Don Simmons on the Fighting Leathernecks' first snap, but Western Illinois efficiently marched the end zone for the remainder of the first half, when it out gained the Golden Bears 215 yards to 60.
En route to a 35-0 halftime lead, Simmons and Demeris Johnson hooked up on touchdown passes of eight and 36 yards, reserve halfback Tim Ardis had scoring runs of 17 and seven yards, and talented fullback Kevin Hart had the other touchdown on a short dive.
Morgan State averted its first shutout of the season when senior wingback Glenny Moore took a pitch right and cut back for a 41-yard touchdown run with 9:33 left in the third quarter. It was the first touchdown of the season for the senior from Mervo High who is one of the top receivers in Golden Bear history.
Morgan State blanked Western Illinois' second-team offense in the second half, as the Fighting Leathernecks' points following intermission came on a 57-yard punt return by Johnson and a safety.
Sophomore Orlando Persell, one of four Golden Bear quarterbacks this year, faced a fierce rush all afternoon from one of Division I-AA's premier defensive units and was finally sacked in the end zone with 2:27 remaining. Many of Persell scrambled for 79 yards rushing, but five sacks left him with a net of 48.
"Orlando's making some mistakes on his pitches [in the run-and-shoot offense] ," Diggs said. "The one time we did execute, it went the distance. Defensively, we arm-tackled, and it seems like when they want to, other teams can throw at will against us. It's a matter of our players not focusing on what they're supposed to do."