The Bulldogs (4-2, 2-1 MEAC) have spent all week stewing about their upset loss to Bethune-Cookman, a stumble that ended the program’s league-record 21-game winning streak — and transformed the Wildcats from pretenders to legitimate contenders. Now, here we have Hampton (5-1, 4-0), looking to do the same.
“They are coming off a loss, and I don’t expect anything less than their best,” Hampton coach Donovan Rose said. “Looking on film, I don’t see a wounded animal. They had a game with some miscues but they have been very consistent. I expect a fired-up team that’s going to give their all.”
The temptation is to start peeking ahead, toward what a win might mean for the Pirates. After all, Bethune-Cookman shot to No. 14 in the FCS and No. 1 in a pair of black college football polls.
“At the beginning of the year, you set your goals — and I don’t know of any coach that doesn’t want to win a conference title,” said Rose, coming off an emotional 7-6 win over regional rival Norfolk State. “But we are taking them one at a time. Every game means something. I concentrate on that week, then everything else will take care of itself.”
This is Rose’s first trip to Orangeburg, S.C., as head coach at Hampton, but he was defensive coordinator in 2008 when the two teams met under similar circumstances. Hampton was also 5-1 and 4-0 in league play, while the Bulldogs were 5-2 and 3-0. After a scoreless first half, South Carolina State exploded for 21 points in the third quarter points on the way to a 35-13 win. The Pirates would lose their next three, slumping to 6-5, while Buddy Pough’s group claimed the first of what has become back-to-back MEAC titles.
This weekend, Hampton hopes to erase that ugly memory. A victory over South Carolina State, much as it did last week for Bethune-Cookman, puts the Pirates on course for their first league crown since 2006. Hampton hasn’t beaten the Bulldogs sxince a 14-10 win back in 2005.
“They are the defending champions, and we are going into their home,” Rose said. “We have to make sure we are focused. Last week is over. The team that prepares for this game the best will come out on top.”