Delaware State got its offense in gear in the second half and pulled away from a stubborn Morgan State team for a 34-16 victory before 13,048 homecoming fans at Hughes Stadium yesterday.
The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference-leading Hornets (6-1 overall, 3-0 in the conference) used their defense and special teams to take the lead in the first half and stop Morgan State (2-5, 0-3) from ending a homecoming drought that started in 1980.
"It was definitely the big plays that made the difference," said Morgan State coach Ricky Diggs. "We had men there on both plays, but we didn't make the tackles. Those type of things kill you."
The game began in a driving rain, and Morgan struck like lightning on the opening kickoff. Senior Eddie Hill took the kick at the 18, slanted to the center of the field, and then broke clear near midfield and angled his way to the end zone for an 82-yard touchdown and the first Golden Bears lead in this series since 1986.
But while the Morgan State defense was holding up its end in the first half, the special teams and the offense didn't comply.
The Hornets took a 7-6 lead midway through the opening quarter. Junior Brian Randall took a Morgan punt at his own 41-yard line, evaded several early tacklers and raced 59 yards to tie the game. Jon Jensen's extra point gave Delaware State the lead with just over 7 minutes left in the first quarter.
Morgan appeared on the verge of regaining the lead late in the quarter after Tony Phillips' 49-yard run gave Morgan a first down at the Hornet 13.
But Michael Davis, subbing for Phillips after the long run, fumbled on the next play after moving inside the 10. Randall picked up the loose ball, sidestepped several Morgan players, and moved down the sideline 95 yards for his second touchdown of the quarter. Jensen's conversion made it 14-6 with 15 seconds left in the first quarter.
Morgan's offense, with junior quarterback Orlando Persell back in control after missing last week's game, moved inside the Hornet 20 twice in the opening minutes of the second quarter.
But the first drive stalled on an incomplete pass in the end zone on fourth-and-three from the 9, and Morgan settled for a 35-yard Michael Andrews field goal on the second opportunity, cutting the lead to 14-9 with 7:45 left in the half.
"We moved the sticks but we just didn't get into the end zone," said Diggs. "Today the defense steps up and then the offense slips back. It's the story of our season.
"I don't know what it's going to take to have this team play both halves. It perplexes me."
The Hornets, ranked second nationally in rushing, had been limited to 32 yards on 24 first-half carries and Morgan held a 241-93 yardage advantage at the half.
The second half was a different story as Delaware State rolled up 290 yards rushing. The Hornets scored on their first possession of the half as Erik Jones connected with Curtis Thomas for a 24-yard scoring pass to cap a 69-yard drive.