HAMPTON -- Hampton head coach Donovan Rose looked to his 14-year-old son for inspiration after the Pirates fumbled away their opportunity to compete for the school's 20th MEAC championship.

Rose's son had few words for his father.

"He told me to move forward," Rose said at Tuesday's news conference.

Hampton (5-4, 4-2) has less than a week to adjust from MEAC championship contender to MEAC spoiler Saturday against Florida A&M (8-1, 5-1), which is tied with South Carolina State for second place in the conference. If Florida A&M wins Saturday and on Nov. 20 against Bethune-Cookman (9-0, 6-0), the conference championship will be decided between the Wildcats, Rattlers and Bulldogs.

"We can't win the championship, but we're going to be prepared," Rose said. "I know whoever we are going to play, we are going to smack them."

It's a recurring nightmare for the Pirates, who have been in turmoil since coach Joe Taylor left Hampton for FAMU after the 2007 season. The Pirates began the 2008 season 5-1, but lost four of their last five games. Last season, the Pirates finished 5-6 – the football program's first losing record since 1994.

The past three seasons have come down to a lack of focus for the Pirates and attention to detail. The Pirates outgained Bethune-Cookman, the No. 1 offense in the conference, while limiting quarterback Matt Johnson to his lowest output in rushing and passing yards this season.

But Saturday's 23-18 loss was more about what the offense failed to do: hold onto the football. The Pirates had three fumbles through nine games. Against the Wildcats, the Pirates coughed up the ball four times. A week earlier, Old Dominion blocked three punts, as Hampton dug itself a 28-7 hole by halftime.

"We have to pay attention to detail," Rose said. "And that's not only on the field. That's in the classroom. Showing up to practice on time. We have to do the little things in order to win."

Maybe the Pirates were too high after shutting down the Wildcats' offense during the first half. Maybe ODU's punt block team caught the Pirates off guard.

But this weekend, the Pirates' attention to detail will be critical because FAMU has shown the ability to capitalize on mistakes. If they don't, Rose might need advice from his son again.