Delaware State quarterback Nick Elko (Arundel) gets this first-quarter… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
In 2007, quarterback Nick Elko rewrote the state record book at Arundel High.
On Thursday night, the Delaware State signal caller added another page to his superlatives.
Playing before family and friends at Morgan State, Elko, now a redshirt senior, sliced through the Bears' defense with near surgical precision, completing 17 straight passes in the first half to set a school record and leading the Hornets to a 28-23 win in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game.
"With the talent that kid has throwing the football, we were pretty sure they were going to try and throw it against us," Morgan coach Donald Hill-Eley said. "We never could really get him off balance."
Down by 14, the Bears rallied late, but came up short when quarterback Seth Higgins, under pressure, was forced out of bounds well short on a fourth-and-10 from Delaware State's 31-yard-line.
Playing before a national television audience, Elko completed 33 of 43 passes for 398 yards and two touchdowns as the Hornets rang up 502 yards of total offense. The numbers were reminiscent of his senior year at Arundel, when he set state records for touchdown passes (43), passing yards (3,091), completions (260) and pass attempts (431).
The loss was the third straight for the Bears (3-5, 2-3 MEAC), who need to win each of their final three games to avoid their third straight losing season. Morgan totaled just 286 yards of offense, with top weapon Travis Davidson gaining 82 yards on 21 carries.
Delaware State (5-3, 4-1) has won four straight.
For Morgan, which a year ago shut out the Hornets in a driving rainstorm, the defeat was especially painful. The Bears lost starting quarterback Josh Council with a sprained left ankle following a sack late in the third quarter. He finished 13 of 19 for 68 yards before being replaced by Higgins.
Council, a 6-foot-4 redshirt sophomore, moved the Bears efficiently early, completing passes to convert each of their first three third-down attempts. After driving to the Hornets' 41, he used his legs to put Morgan on the board.
Council took the snap out of the shotgun, faked a handoff to Davidson and took off up the middle, cutting right behind a block and rushing for a 41-yard touchdown 4:10 into the game. Last week he ran for a score from 35-yards out.
If the Bears started hot, however, Elko was simply on fire.
"We had a pass-happy gameplan going in, so we knew we were going to try to pass and pass early," Elko said. "The coach just kind of put it in my hands. I tried to spread the ball around and give everyone a chance."
Often throwing out of four- and five-receiver sets, Elko connected on 18 of his first 19 passes. On the opening play of the second quarter, his deep pass to speedy wide receiver Travis Tarpley pushed the ball deep into Morgan territory. Three plays, he found Tarpley in the back corner of the end zone to tie the game.
On the ensuing kickoff, however, Morgan's Tyrone Hendrix caught the ball two yards deep in the end zone, took off to his left and burst into the open, sprinting down the far sideline for a touchdown to put the Bears back on top. It marked the third time in school history the Bears had a kickoff return of at least 100 yards, and first since 1986.
The joy would be short-lived.
Elko quickly picked up where he left off, completing four straight passes before Justin Wilson dropped a pass over the middle. On a fourth-and-4, he found Tarpley alone in the middle of the endzone
Delaware State appeared to take the lead late in the half, but officials used replay to reverse Elko's pass to Wilson in the back corner of the endzone, ruling it out of bounds. Mitchell Ward connected on a 31-yard field goal to put the Hornets ahead, and he added a 24-yarder as time expired in the second quarter to put the Hornets up, 20-14.
After forcing a punt on Morgan's first drive of the second half, Delaware State further extended its lead by driving 80 yards, including passes of 36 and 22 yards, capped by Nagee Jackson's 2-yard run. Elko's two-point conversion pass to Josh Bailey made it 28-14.
Morgan pulled to within eight on Council's five-yard keeper, but could get no closer as kicker Earvin Gonzalez missed his first extra point of the season.
Higgins led the Bears on a drive midway through the fourth, with Gonzalez's 39-yard field goal attempt hitting the right upright and bouncing through to cut the deficit to 28-23.