Norfolk State clinches MEAC championship with 47-14 win at Morgan

Bears entered with a chance of sharing the conference title

November 12, 2011|By Rich Scherr, Special to The Baltimore Sun

Morgan State took the field at Hughes Stadium Saturday still with an outside shot at a share of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title.

But after gamely battling No. 22 Norfolk State throughout the first half, the Bears saw their chances disappear with one utterly forgettable stretch to open the second half.

Morgan allowed 17 straight points in a span of 4 minutes, 26 seconds, turning a close game into a 47-14 rout before an announced 5,329.

"It kind of just collapsed on us," Bears nose guard Kevin Myrie said. "Everybody was hyped. We wanted it. But it just didn't go in our favor."

With the win, Norfolk State (9-2, 7-1 MEAC) locked up its first outright conference championship, as well as an automatic berth in the 20-team Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. The Bears (5-5, 4-3) would've needed to win their final two games to gain a share of the title.

After cutting Norfolk's lead to 20-14 at the half, the Bears' upset bid quickly unraveled in the early moments of the third quarter.

Their troubles began on the first play from scrimmage, when Norfolk running back Randy Maynes burst through a gaping hole up the middle and took off 56 yards for a touchdown. Morgan then went three and out before the Spartans — buoyed by Chris Walley's pass in the flat to Keith Johnson, which the freshman turned into a 48-yard gain — made it 30-14 on Ryan Estep's 28-yard field goal.

The final, and perhaps most painful, blow occurred on the ensuing kickoff, when Bears returner Chris Flowers lost the ball on a hit by Tyrece Shepherd. Norfolk's Marcell Coke scooped it up and took it back to the 1, setting up Walley's quarterback keeper that extended the lead to 37-14.

"It was like three plays, back to back," Morgan coach Donald Hill-Eley said. "I know the kids are ready to play. It's just a matter of coming out and making your plays. We haven't been in these types of games this late in the season, playing for part of the championship. It gets to the point where it's almost like they leave the [locker] room, and one mistake leads to two, two leads to three."

Morgan opened a 7-0 lead when quarterback Seth Higgins (12 of 31 for 131 yards, one touchdown and one interception) wound up and threw a high-arching bomb toward receiver Tyrone Hendrix. Hendrix, jogging all alone down the left sideline after defensive back Natturner Harris fell down, caught the ball and easily ran the rest of the way for a 53-yard touchdown.

But on the next possession, Norfolk State used a big play of its own to pull even, when Morgan defensive back Kenneth Ridley bought Walley's pump fake, leaving Lewis wide open for a 60-yard touchdown catch.

The Spartans then took control by scoring on each of their next three possessions.

Trailing 20-7 late in the first half, the Bears began to claw back, pulling to within six when Travis Davidson took a handoff, started right, cut behind a block and took off 48 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.

Morgan had a chance to take the lead before halftime, but lost it when Higgins fumbled after taking a big hit on a keeper at Norfolk's 39, and linebacker Corwin Hammond recovered.

With a victory next week, the Bears can still finish with a winning record — but that thought isn't particularly comforting to Hill-Eley.

"Our program has evolved beyond that," he said. " I think now we can really start competing for championships. With that, we can't have stage fright. We have to make our plays and do things we have to do to be successful."

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