WASHINGTON — The Morgan State football team knew last week that it would not have the services of starting quarterback Seth Higgins, and the junior's absence was apparent Saturday.
Playing with the quarterback duo of Robert Council and Moses Skillon, the offense produced just one touchdown and committed four turnovers as the visiting Bears fell, 28-14, to Howard before an announced 7,053 at William H. Greene Stadium here.
The loss dropped Morgan State to 2-6 overall and 2-2 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and highlighted the importance of Higgins, an Edgewood native and graduate.
With Higgins as the starter, the Bears had gone 2-1 in their last three contests, including back-to-back wins. But the quarterback sprained his right throwing shoulder near the end of the first half of the team's 34-22 victory over North Carolina Central on Oct. 19, did not practice last week and was ruled out for Saturday's game.
Council, a junior, got the start – his second of the season – but the offense scored zero points and averaged 4.4 yards (173 yards on 39 plays) under his direction. Skillon, a freshman, played in the third and fourth quarters, and although he scored a touchdown on a 1-yard run in the third, he also tossed two interceptions and lost one fumble.
"I felt like I could have played a lot better," said Council, who carried the ball 13 times for 51 yards but completed just 3-of-8 passes for 32 yards and one interception. "In previous weeks, Seth was holding it down, driving the ball, and scoring. He was doing what he was supposed to do. So I was supposed to step up this week. Like coach [Donald Hill-Eley] said, no letdown. I was supposed to do the same thing he does and lead my team to a victory. So I feel like I could've played a lot better to get the win."
Skillon was unavailable to talk after the game because he was getting treatment on an injured ankle, but Hill-Eley declined to assign all of the blame to either Council or Skillon.
"Council is a seasoned guy," Hill-Eley said. "He did some things well and as we went back and forth, we kind of sputtered when we got into the red zone. But it's not on him. There was an offsides here, a minus yard here. Collectively, we just didn't play well enough to win."
Both quarterbacks failed to seize valuable opportunities during the game. On the offense's first series, Council executed a well-timed play-action pass with the Bison defense in man-to-man coverage and without a deep defender. But he overthrew redshirt freshman wide receiver Thomas Martin, who was alone and streaking down the right sideline.
On Morgan State's final possession of the first half, the offense drove to the Bisons' 41-yard line where on fourth down-and-5, Council underthrew a deep pass intended for Martin that was intercepted by Howard senior cornerback Curtis Simmons at the 4.
On Skillon's first drive under center, the offense marched to Howard's 43, but Skillon underthrew a deep fade to Martin, and redshirt freshman cornerback Kenneth Russ intercepted the pass at the 1.
And in the fourth quarter, Skillon threw behind junior tight end Nate Ingram, who tried to make the catch with just his right hand, but the ball ricocheted to sophomore strong safety Jordan Monette.
While the offense sputtered without Higgins, the defense had its own troubles trying to contain Bison junior quarterback Greg McGhee. McGhee, who entered the game tied for first in the MEAC in touchdown passes (10) and ranked second in passing yards per game (191.7) and completion percentage (60.4), connected on just 11-of-21 passes for 89 yards, but he rushed for 122 yards on 15 carries.
Freshman running back Anthony Philyaw capitalized on McGhee's plays by carrying the ball 24 times for 98 yards and three touchdowns.
Notes: Bears senior Broderick Gager's 89-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter was the program's first since Oct. 9, 2004 when Larry Dixon returned one 18 yards for a score in a 28-26 win against North Carolina A&T. … Sophomore outside linebacker Joel Scott (Joppatowne) was ejected in the third quarter after officials ruled that he had targeted Howard sophomore running back William Parker with his helmet. Hill-Eley did not agree with the call, adding, "This is a real physical game, and you try to coach these young men to keep their helmets out of the play, but when you're in that interior line and you've got running backs coming and they're coming headfirst and you ask defenders to stick their chests out, I think as the game moves on, it will be something that is revisited." … Morgan State leads the series with the Bison, 40-26-1, but the Bears have lost their last two games at William H. Greene Stadium. Morgan State hasn't beaten Howard in Washington, D.C., since Oct. 18, 2008.