Standing on the Morgan State sideline, running back Travis Davidson couldn't bring himself to watch Sacred Heart's Chris Rogers attempt the game-winning field goal in the third overtime of Saturday's season opener.
"I'm very superstitious," Davidson said. "I feel like when I watch the game, bad stuff happens, so I had my head down."
It didn't take long for the senior to snap back to attention, as teammate Lamar Bynum broke through the line to block the low kick. Minutes later, the Bears' Ervin Gonzalez lined up on the left hash mark and nailed a 20-yarder of his own, giving host Morgan State a 30-27 win in four overtimes, marking the longest game in school history.
The sequence was an appropriate end for a game that saw seven lead changes and enough emotional swings to last the better part of a season.
"This was a test of a team. When the offense was down, the defense was up, and it was just a parallel," said Morgan coach Donald Hill-Eley, who coached from the press box while attempting to fill the dual role of offensive coordinator.
The win broke a three-game losing streak dating to last season for the Bears (1-0), who had lost five of their past seven season openers.
Davidson did his best to ensure they wouldn't continue those trends, rushing 22 times for 107 yards and two touchdowns, including a 70-yard burst through the left side that put his team ahead, 17-14, late in the third quarter. He later scored on a one-yard plunge over the middle, again putting the Bears on top, albeit briefly.
Each time the Bears made their move, the Pioneers managed to find an answer. The Northeast Conference team had extra motivation, playing their first game since head coach Paul Gorham was diagnosed with a life-threatening lung disease that has since led to a double lung transplant and the amputation of both legs.
"I'm proud of the way we hung in there and fought back and fourth, but I told them, `We have to learn how to finish in these games and come out on the other end," said Sacred Heart interim head coach Mark Nofri.
Pioneers quarterback Tim Little threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns, but he also was plagued by costly mistakes. The Bears took their first lead 9:48 before halftime when cornerback Joe Rankin intercepted Little's screen pass to the sideline and returned it 72 yards for a touchdown.
The defensive score was critical for a team that had trouble finishing drives throughout the first half, netting just three offensive points despite advancing into Sacred Heart's territory four times.
"Coach [William] Sherman [assistant offensive coordinator] kept pulling us to the side and telling us to keep our heads together," Davidson said. "We were making a lot of mistakes and having penalties. But we were just trying to stay focused."
Rogers' 28-yard field goal with 49 seconds left in regulation tied the game at 24-24. The Pioneers then got the ball back when linebacker Justin Sexton intercepted a pass from Bears quarterback Seth Higgins (14 of 31, 153 yards) and returned it near midfield. But with one-tenth of a second left on the clock, Rogers' 45-yarder fell well short, forcing overtime.
There, each team missed chances. In the first overtime, Gonzalez pushed the potential go-ahead 35-yarder wide left. And later, in the fourth overtime, Sacred Heart missed its chance to pull ahead when, following a low snap, Rogers pushed his 35-yard attempt wide left.
Rogers made just two of his five attempts, all told.