Morgan State?s season may have turned the corner last night.
With a lustrous defensive effort and big plays from the offense, the Bears stayed alive in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference race by upsetting high-scoring Bethune-Cookman, 28-14, and remained unbeaten at Hughes Stadium.
Morgan (2-3, 1-1MEAC) blanked the Wildcats ? who had averaged 37.8 points a game this season ? until nine minutes were lef t in the game, riding a 21-point first half to their second home victory before 3,896.
?We knew if we had lost today, we?d have been just playing for respect,? Morgan coach Donald Hill-Eley said. ?We always knew the potential was there; it was just good to see our kids reach it.?
Added quarterback Mario Melton: ?We needed this win to get respect. It?ll show a lot of people who see us that we?re no pushovers the distance with Byron Selby (Dunbar) nursing a broken finger on his throwing hand.
It became interesting in the fourth period as the Bears kept going three-and-out on their offensive series and Bethune-Cookman (3-2, 2-1) strung together a long drive and capitalized on field position for two scores, but an ensuing onside kick failed and Morgan clinched the win when Chad Simpson dashed 32 yards for the game?s final touchdown with 1:10 left.
The first Wildcats touchdown followed an 80-yard drive and ended with a 3-yard run by Justin Brannon with 9:06 left in the game. After a punt exchange, the Wildcats closed to within a touchdown with the aid of a personal-foul penalty against Morgan. A pass from Jimmie Russell to Eric Weems with 1:57 left covered the final 13 yards. Bethune-Cookman committed two penalties on the onside attempt and two plays later, Simpson raced into the end zone to keep Morgan alive in the MEAC. A second straight loss would have just about ended all title hopes.
Nevertheless, the first conference defeat ? 26-7 to front-running Hampton a week earlier?showed the Bears that they could compete with the best inthe MEAC.
?We probably should have won that game [despite the final score],? Hill-Eley said. ?We?re still Bears here. The young men are ready to play.?
Terrell Floyd spearheaded the defensive effort with nine tackles, including three for losses, as Bethune-Cookman was forced to play nearly the entire game without Jarod Rucker, the quarterback who leads the MEAC in passing. Rucker suffered an injured wrist on the third play from scrimmage and ceded the duties to Russell.
?I was fortunate to get the sacks,? Floyd said, ?but it was basically because we were prepared for everything. It was just like they [the Wildcats] were playing in slowmotion.?
Morgan scored after two of three fumbles the Wildcats lost in the game, turned aside a field goal attempt late in the second quarter and then built a 21-0 cushion when Melton took a quarterback drawup the middle, cut to the sideline and dashed 70 yards for a touchdown with 56 seconds left in the half.
Earlier, the sophomore had hit Rodrick Wolfe (Edmondson) with a 61-yard touchdown pass on a sideline fly pattern, and Craig Nelson had turned an offtackle run into a 53-yard touchdown run. Those scores followed fumble recoveries by Darius Leak and BryanWilson.
?We stressed just doing your one-eleventh [share of responsibility],? Hill-Eley said. ?Anytime you go against a triple option team you have to keep your assignments in mind. It?s like when you go to Pimlico. If you want to see a horse lose, watch him look aside. We didn?t want them looking aside.?
Morgan had been averaging only 11.5 points a game and only six in its three defeats. In this game, the offense churned out nearly 8 yards a play and accumulated 380 net yards.
?We played Mario last week, so it was old hat to him,? Hill-Eley said. ?We just wanted him doing the things he could.?
NOTE // Morgan State inducted six new members into its Athletic Hall of Fame yesterday, and they were recognized at halftime last night. Honored were Dr. John Laws Nickens Jr. (swimming, 1968-1970), Chet Davis (men?s basketball, 1969-1973), Paula Clagon-Smith (track and field, 1975-1979), Paulette Clagon (track and field, 1975-1979), Ralph Jones (swimming coach, 1966-1970) and Charles Kelly (swimming, 1953-1955).