Morgan knows there's work to be done

MEAC title out of reach, 2-4 Bears change goal: 2nd winning record in row

October 18, 2003|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Morgan State entered this football season with lofty expectations and the motto of "Unfinished Business," a reference to the work still necessary to reach the top of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Six games later, the job remains unfinished.

Beset by injuries to important personnel, inconsistent play and a touch of complacency after a 7-5 record in 2002, the Bears already have fallen out of the MEAC title picture. They enter today's homecoming game against Howard with two wins in six games and scrambling simply to have their second straight winning season after 23 consecutive years of losing.

"It seems like we're going back to how it was two years ago," said senior defensive end Sekou Goings. "In my last year, this is real frustrating, but whatever happens, we have to keep playing every game like it's the last one. We're all in this struggle together."

Coach Donald Hill-Eley warned before the season that controlling "egos and arrogance" might be a problem for the staff and that situation might have been exacerbated when Morgan edged cross-town rival Towson in its opener, leading to more headiness among the players.

Not that Morgan has been embarrassed in any outing. The three league losses have been to South Carolina State at home by 27-21, to Hampton at neutral Giants Stadium by 24-21 in overtime, and to North Carolina A&T at Hughes Stadium by 28-21. The lone conference win - 31-24 at defending champion Bethune-Cookman two weeks ago - kept the Bears' hopes alive before they regressed last week.

"That was one of the worst games I've been a part of," said Hill-Eley. "They [A&T] were the more disciplined team, and we were consistent with helping an opponent win."

The troubles started with the coin toss when Morgan's captains were misinterpreted by the officials and the Bears wound up kicking off to start both halves. According to Hill-Eley, officials said Morgan's representatives never said the word "defer" and meant they wanted to kick off to open the first half and receive to start the second.

Within 5 1/2 minutes, the Aggies had a 14-0 lead before Morgan had snapped the ball, thanks to a 78-yard touchdown drive, a Morgan fumble on the ensuing kickoff and a 16-yard A&T touchdown pass. It ballooned to 20-0 a minute and a half into the second quarter.

The offense has been ravaged by injuries with the intended starting tailback, Isaiah Long, bothered by repeated cramping and tight end Chris Cash also missing time with injuries. No successors have emerged to the departed big playmakers, runner T.J. Stallings and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who carried the attack to an average of more than 30 points a game.

"I think the biggest difference is in the leadership," said Goings. "Last year, T.J., Visanthe and Joe Wright [tackle] held that offense together."

The result is that quarterback LeJominick Washington often attempts to make plays himself. "He tries to take the game on his shoulders," said Hill-Eley.

The other half of the quarterback duo, Bradshaw Littlejohn, was suspended by Hill-Eley for the Bethune-Cookman game "for getting outside the rules a little bit." Littlejohn has been bothered by a shoulder injury.

There has been no answer at running back where freshman Christian Sweat, listed as a defensive back earlier, became the primary carrier last week.

One caller to the weekly MEAC teleconference asked why freshman Sheldon Campbell, a record-setting back from Forest Park, has not appeared.

"When you practice once a week, you'll never play," responded an agitated Hill-Eley. "A lot of times people sacrifice their work ethic and character just to get a win. We're not going to do that."

Goings said he believes Morgan became a marked team after its success of a year ago.

"Everybody is coming at us with high energy," he said. "We set a standard last year that we're not a team to be toyed with. Maybe we took that too much for granted."

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