Defense steps up to halt Morgan skid

Morgan State 7 Howard 0

College football


Morgan State endured two interceptions, a muffed punt return, a blocked field goal attempt, and a botched exercise in clock management that ruined a long drive at the end of the first half yesterday, but the Bears kept digging in against visiting Howard.

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Morgan State offense finally broke through by rewarding an unusually stellar defense with the play that made the difference.

Sophomore quarterback Byron Selby bought time in the pocket by avoiding the Howard pass rush, then connected with sophomore wide receiver Rodrick Wolfe (Edmondson) down the middle for a 53-yard touchdown pass to lift the Bears to a 7-0 homecoming victory before 14,005 at Hughes Stadium.

The victory stopped a three-game losing streak and pulled Morgan State (2-5, 1-3) out of last place in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. It also showed the Bears that they can win without being carried by their offense, which pushed around the Bison (3-3, 0-3) for much of the day without the points to show for it.

Morgan State recorded its first shutout since beating Savannah State, 26-0, on homecoming day in 2001. Coming into yesterday, the Bears had not allowed fewer than 26 points this season, and had surrendered an average of 42.7 points in three MEAC losses.

But after a physical week of practice, Morgan State responded by stuffing the Bison. Howard managed eight first downs, 120 net yards, and lost senior quarterback Ronald Venters to a right wrist injury in the second half. He entered the game leading the MEAC with 189.6 yards passing per game.

Junior linebacker Darius Leak led the Bears with eight tackles and had one of four sacks by Morgan State. Late in the third quarter, Leak sent Venters to the sideline with a pair of bruising hits as he was releasing a pass.

Venters (3-for-22, 71 yards) tried to return to action but eventually gave way to backup Darrell Turner.

The second hit on Venters preceded a missed 35-yard field goal attempt by Noam Dror with 2:55 left in the third quarter that marked Howard's last serious chance to score.

"All week long in practice we went hard in full gear. It showed and paid off today," Leak said. "Our focus from the jump was to play hard for 60 minutes."

"We had to start fast [on defense]," added Morgan State coach Donald Hill-Eley, who has watched his young defense tackle poorly and repeatedly give up points in bunches early. "We have a young team, and as you put in new schemes with them, sometimes you lose out on the fundamentals. The only way you can teach tackling is to tackle [live in practice]."

The Bears' defense established a presence early. After forcing Howard into a three and out on its first possession, Morgan State punt return man Jai Wilson failed to catch the ball, giving the Bison possession at the Morgan 19. Howard proceeded to lose 18 yards, then punted.

Morgan State's offense slowly but steadily responded. With Selby (Dunbar) and tailbacks Craig Nelson and Jason Jackson sharing the burden, the Bears pounded the top-ranked rushing defense in Division I-AA for 152 yards. The Bison came into yesterday allowing 50.8 rushing yards per game.

Ultimately, the victory came down to Selby, who atoned for two interceptions and a poor decision. He tried to scramble for a touchdown in the closing seconds of the first half on a third-and-goal with the Bears out of timeouts. Selby was tackled on the Howard 2. The Bears settled for nothing after driving 61 yards in 12 plays.

"I thought I saw daylight. I should have thrown the ball away. Me being a young quarterback, I made a bonehead play," said Selby, who completed 11 of 24 pass attempts for 168 yards and hooked up with Wolfe for the game-winner with 8:43 left.

Howard 0 0 0 0 - 0

Morgan State 0 0 0 7 - 7

Fourth quarter MSU-Wolfe 53 pass from Selby (Meade kick), 8:43 A-14,005.

Howard MSU

First downs 8 15

Rushes-yards 26-48 48-152

Passing 72 168

Comp-Att-Int 4-25-1 11-24-2

Return Yards 33 30

Punts-Avg. 8-36.0 4-37.8

Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-1

Penalties-Yards 10-61 4-61

Time of Possession 24:38 35:22

Rushing-Howard-Coleman 10-75, Tison 3-4, Perry 1-3, Venters 4-minus 8, Rutherford 6-minus 11, Turner 2-minus 15. MSU-Selby 15-78, J. Jackson 16-37, Nelson 17-37. Passing-Howard-Venters 3-22-1-71, Turner, 1-3-0-1. MSU-Selby 11-24-2-168 Receiving-Howard-Williams 1-46, Lewis 1-18, Coleman 1-7, Tyson 1-1. MSU-Dickens 3-29, Cash 3-22, Wolfe 2-81, McKenzie 2-30, Wilson 1-6.

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