The disappointed looks and the drooped shoulders were physical expressions of a Morgan State football team trying to absorb the reality of an 0-5 start and a 0-1 opening in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
The unfavorable beginning may also be taking a mental toll.
The players and coaches quietly walked into the locker room at Hughes Stadium in Baltimore after Saturday’s 27-21 loss to previously winless Norfolk State for a five-minute meeting with coach Donald Hill-Eley, but afterward, the frustration for a few players spilled out via their comments.
“We feel like we’ve put in a lot of hours, we feel like we were the better team, but should’ve, could’ve isn’t going to get it done,” junior quarterback Seth Higgins (Edgewood) said. “No one goes out to lose and starting off conference play, Norfolk State is a team we should’ve beat, but we didn’t. It’s very disappointing.”
Added junior outside linebacker Christopher Robinson (Dunbar): “It’s extremely frustrating. We’re going to continue to work and get better.”
There were some positives from Saturday’s contest. The 21 points are a season high and the most since a 28-23 setback to Delaware State last Oct. 25. Higgins appeared to separate himself from the pack to be the offense’s starter for the very near future.
Defensively, a unit that had been gashed for 303 rushing yards per game and had surrendered 16 rushing touchdowns gave up 134 yards and one score on the ground to the Spartans. Junior middle linebacker Cody Acker has recorded double-digit tackles in four games, and he caused two fumbles.
But the Bears have also been plagued by costly errors. After turning the ball over seven times in the first four contests, the team gave the ball away to Norfolk State four times (two fumbles and two interceptions).
And penalties continue to flare up as a major issue. After committing 11 penalties for 115 yards against the Spartans, Morgan State has been flagged 43 times for 370 yards in five contests. That is an average of 8.6 penalties for 74 yards per game.
“It’s bad when you look at it in the perspective that we’re doing things to hurt ourselves,” Acker said. “It’s not what the other team is doing to us. We’re out there getting the personal fouls and things of that nature letting it dictate how we play on the field. It shouldn’t happen like that.”
This is uncharted territory for this current crop of players and coach Hill-Eley, whose worst start at Morgan State was a 0-3 run in 2001, his first season. Now saddled with an 11-game losing streak dating back to Oct. 13, Hill-Eley said he and the rest of the coaches have to be careful to push the right buttons in motivating the players for the rest of the MEAC campaign.
“Any time you start off 0-and-anything, it has a lot to do with the psyche,” he said. “So you have to find a way to hang your hat on some of the positives of the game. You get back and you watch the positives. You don’t browbeat them because I know that when it comes down to it, they’re still young men, and we’ve still got to find a way to teach them through it.
"If you’re in a rut and you’re stuck and by yourself, you don’t get out and push the car. You just gas it and hope you find some type of grip to stop this momentum from going backwards. Right now, they’re young and how they respond to this will dictate how they live the rest of their lives."
The Bears’ next opportunity to end the drought will come Saturday when Florida A&M visits Baltimore. Robinson and Acker are convinced that their teammates will not give up.
“I believe we’re going to come together as a brotherhood,” Robinson said. “I trust in my teammates, and I trust that we will all get better – starting with myself.”
“I won’t let my players quit,” Acker vowed. “We’re strong enough and we will be strong enough to fight through this.”