In race to catch Bethune-Cookman, Morgan State is getting overlooked

In the MEAC’s race to catch Bethune-Cookman, you hear a lot about South Carolina State, about Hampton, about Florida A&M. But what about one-loss Morgan State?

After all, the Bears (4-3 overall, 3-1 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) are coming off a head-turning 34-24 thriller over Delaware State. That has them tied with South Carolina State and Florida A&M, and just one game back from Hampton in league action.

Morgan State’s exciting new quarterback, Delonte Williams, was last seen steering an 8-play, 85-yard fourth-quarter scoring drive — topped by his 34-yard touchdown pass to Tyrone Hendrix. Teammate Sheldon Jacques then returned a fumble for another touchdown to seal the win over Delaware.

Both plays happened inside the game’s final 20 seconds.

“That’s why you have to play for every snap that’s required in a football game,” Delaware State coach Al Lavan said. “We made a lot of plays, but we simply did not make the plays when it was necessary to make them at the very end on both sides of the ball. ”

The Bears, who hold a 31-23 lead in the all-time series with Delaware State, will have a lot to say about how their season ends. They still have dates scheduled against the three other teams hoping to keep pace with Bethune-Cookman — Florida A&M (4-3, 3-1; Saturday in Tallahassee, Fla.), then South Carolina State (5-2, 3-1; Nov. 11, in Baltimore) and finally Hampton (5-2, 4-1; Nov. 20, also at home).

[Grambling moves into FCS Top 25, but Bethune tops most black college polls.]

Meanwhile, in a twist on a series dating back to 1945, Morgan and Delaware State were both coming off wins over North Carolina A&T in their last games. Morgan State topped the Aggies 27-14 two Saturdays before, then had a bye. The Hornets followed with their own victory over A&T, 31-26.

Morgan State’s offense arrived ranked last in the MEAC with just 186.2 yards per game, but Delaware State answered with the conference’s worst defense. The Hornets were surrendering an average of 390.3 total yards a night.

Something had to give. And it did: Delaware State.

The Hornets’ Jaashawn Jones ran well, rushing 22 times for 114 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown run. (That comes a week after he rushed for 144 yards, including a 3-yard TD run, against North Carolina A&T.) The young Williams was also struggling early for Morgan State, tossing three interceptions (two for touchdowns) and going down on sacks three times.

In the end, Delaware State would outgain the Bears 389 yards to 382. But Morgan State’s redshirt freshman — known affectionately as “Smoke” — was terrific when it counted late. He ended up going 11-of-18 for 167 passing yards and two scores, plus 69 yards rushing, to earn MEAC rookie of the week honors.

“We had confidence in ourselves on the last drive, and we pushed ourselves,” Hendrix said. “It was up and down today, (a) roller-coaster. It was hard to stay focused. But if you stay focused, we’ll win.”

Williams and Hendrix were aided by a strong performance by the Morgan State defense, which forced five turnovers of its own in the first half — including three interceptions — as well as four sacks. Linebacker Chris Eugene led the Bears with nine tackles.

Stellar play like that will be required to overtake the MEAC teams running side-by-side and ahead of Morgan State. The Bears rank behind all of them in total offense, and ahead of only Florida A&M in total defense.

Still, you are what your record says you are: And that means Morgan State is still in this race.


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