It was the start of a new season for Morgan State, but the same old result last night in its frustrating series with Towson.
The Bears outgained the Tigers by nearly 100 yards, matched their one turnover and commanded the ball for nearly 15 more minutes and still took a 21-16 defeat at Johnny Unitas Stadium, their fourth straight loss against Towson.
Morgan was shut out in the second half and couldn't stop the Sean Schaefer air show when it counted, surrendering two third-quarter touchdowns, then failing to score on three downs from the Tigers' 1-yard line, sealing its fate.
Schaefer threw for three touchdowns and 243 yards, surpassing Dan Crowley's school record for career passing yards with a 40-yard throw to Hakeem Moore on the game's final drive. That essentially wrapped up the game in a scoreless fourth quarter in which there were only two offensive possessions, one by each side.
"We gave up a TD with four seconds to go in the [first] half," Towson coach Gordy Combs said. "Then, to shut them out in the second half is a tribute to our defense. This game always come down to a couple plays here and there; it's always a difficult one for us."
No plays were bigger than those executed by Towson's defensive unit as Morgan (0-1) drove for the potential go-ahead touchdown to second-and-goal at the Towson 1. A handoff to Justin Lawrence, a defensive lineman lined up at fullback, netted no gain. Then Morgan quarterback Carlton Jackson fumbled the snap on third down, recovering for a 1-yard loss.
On the final thrust, the Bears went to running back Devan James, who carried the ball 33 times for 178 yards. In a huge pileup at the goal line, he was ruled a few inches short and Towson took over on downs, then held on to the ball for the final 9 minutes, 21 seconds.
"I thought I was in," James said.
Said Morgan coach Donald Hill-Eley: "When you're away and get those close ones, the home team is going to get it. We've got to be able to prepare to get a few inches or 1 yard."
Hill-Eley never considered attempting a field goal with so much time remaining. James Meade had missed on two fairly close ones in the first half, leaving Morgan in a necessary go-for-it mode.
Towson (1-1) rebounded from its opening-night rout by Navy to win its 11th consecutive home game against the Bears and fifth in their past six meetings overall. Last year, the Bears dropped six games by eight or fewer points.
The Tigers adjusted nicely after a first half dominated by the Bears in the trenches, giving Schaefer more time, using play-action passes more often and mixing in a running game that was nonexistent in the first half.
They also got yeoman work from backup receivers Steve Holmes and Moore after Tommy Breaux (broken finger) and Casey Cegles (ankle sprain) left with injuries.
"They were giving us trouble with fronts and blitzes at first," Schaefer said. "So we opened it up with the run and our line did a great job after the half."
Morgan's "Trench Mob" dominated the play up front and the team forged into a 16-7 halftime lead, primarily behind James' running.
Chad Simpson's successor gained 138 yards on the ground in the first two quarters as the Bears out-gained Towson 218-53 and seized control of the game.
The Tigers' offense was frustrated after its first possession. Towson drove 85 yards to a 7-0 lead on the opening drive of the game. Schaefer connected with Cegles for the final 55 when Cegles emerged open behind the Morgan secondary.
A combination of aggressive Morgan blitzes, an interception of Schaefer by Gary Albury and an unproductive rushing attack limited Towson to 2 fewer yards than it gained on its touchdown play.
Morgan failed on its first drive when Meade's 20-yard field-goal attempt hit the left upright and bounced harmlessly away, but the downfall of the Tigers started when a snap on a punt sailed out of the Towson end zone, giving the Bears a safety and a 7-2 deficit.
On the ensuing march, Morgan went 52 yards to the end zone with transfer Jackson connecting with Robert Surratt for the touchdown from the 5. The biggest gainer in the series was an 18-yard scramble by Jackson, who previously attended Akron.