Liberty puts the heat on inexperienced Morgan State, 55-27 Interceptions costly for Bears in opener

September 13, 1992|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Staff Writer

LYNCHBURG, Va. -- Morgan State sent more talent on th field than it has in years. Some intangible qualities also were evident, as the Bears displayed more grit in a half against Liberty than they had in a typical 1980s season.

Alas, the inexperienced Bears began coach Ricky Diggs' second season by reverting to the kind of decision-making that has haunted them since 1979, their last winning season, as the Flames burned them for a 55-27 victory before 5,008 at Liberty University Stadium yesterday.

Morgan State (0-1) hasn't beaten a Division I-AA opponent outside the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference since 1983, and once first-time opponent Liberty (1-1) learned a little about the Bears, the Flames rolled to the highest point total in coach Sam Rutigliano's four years here, and the second-most points in the program's 20-year history.

Morgan State put as many as nine men on the line and the Bears' stunts kept quarterback Robbie Justino below his accustomed totals, but Liberty, which netted just 32 yards on the ground in a 31-13 loss at Furman last week, adjusted and gained 280 yards on the ground. The Bears' impatience on offense was another factor, as starter Orlando Persell saw three of his four interceptions lead to Liberty touchdowns.

"We had a lot of guys playing in their first NCAA game," said Diggs, in his second year at Morgan State. "No matter how many points Liberty scored, every one of them felt we had the capability of getting back in the game, but our offensive line just wore down."

Eight Morgan State starters were making their first appearance in an NCAA game, and Diggs said he may have used as many as 30 first-year players. Down 17-14 in the last minute of the first half, the Bears impressed Liberty with their talent, but the Flames had more finesse.

"We knew they [Morgan State] were going to blitz coming off the bus," said Rutigliano, coach of the Cleveland Browns from 1978-84. "Our players didn't listen when we told them, 'Don't get flustered early,' but we adjusted. Every time they came back, we had a wake-up call."

Morgan State got Liberty's attention early. Persell's 17-yard nTC touchdown pass to Jesse Humphrey, a junior who has experience in the military but not in the NCAA, completed a seven-play, 41-yard drive with 8:56 left in the first quarter.

Liberty changed some schemes and outscored the Bears, 31-7, over the next 25 minutes. Four plays after Persell's first interception, the Flames went ahead 10-7 on Matt Council's 8-yard run with 2:47 left.

An identical sequence two minutes into the third quarter made it 31-14, as Persell was intercepted and Council went in untouched from 12 yards out on first down.

The first half ended as badly as the second started for the Bears, as Justino directed a six-play, 64-yard scoring drive in the last minute to negate the Bears' best drive and push Liberty's halftime edge back up to 24-14.

Dante Carter, a junior from Carver, turned a quick-out pattern into a 77-yard touchdown play a minute later, but that 31-21 deficit was as close as the Bears would get. It was the second scoring drive with Michael Moore operating Morgan State's run-and-shoot offense, as he split time with Persell.

Justino was 12 of 24 for 181 yards and two touchdowns en route to becoming the Flames' all-time leader in all-purpose yards.

Council, a sophomore transfer from West Virginia, carried 14 times for 158 yards and four touchdowns.

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