The only thing Morgan State coach Stanley Mitchell could say to freshman quarterback Marques Brown after the Bears' 42-38 loss to Howard was that everything will be all right.
Considering Mitchell will have Brown and a host of other players returning next season, those words may prove to be true.
For now, however, Brown will have to deal with yesterday's frustrating defeat.
Howard (5-5, 4-3) scored four touchdowns in the final quarter, the last a 6-yard Bobby Townsend pass to Jevont Philpot with 10 seconds left to clinch the win. Brown had led the Bears on a five-play, 67-yard drive that was capped by running back Ali Culpepper's 7-yard touchdown run to give Morgan State a 38-35 lead with 1: 33 left.
The Bears' touchdown, however, came with too much time left for the Bison, whose passing game was not stopped all afternoon. Townsend set a school record with 71 attempts, completing 37 for 522 yards and four touchdowns.
"The defense did a good job of stopping their running game," Mitchell said. "A good team will capitalize on your weakness. They saw that we couldn't cover. [Townsend] had all day to throw the ball. We couldn't get him out of that pocket. We couldn't get him to scramble. I was hoping that we could throw more blitz packages. We did, but they were able to pick them up."
Howard's defense wasn't much better. The Bison allowed 250 yards on the ground, with Culpepper gaining 120 yards and Keith Warren getting 103 yards. Culpepper also had four touchdowns.
Even with all the success on the ground, Mitchell decided to go with five wide receivers on the Bears' final drive. Morgan State drove the ball to the Howard 7 when Bison coach Steve Wilson elected to use his timeouts to give his team enough time to get the ball back and score.
The move was a gamble since it allowed the Bears a chance to go to the sideline and call their plays. Culpepper scored on second down.
"We hadn't stopped them inside the red zone all day, and I didn't think we would stop them there," Wilson said. "One of the keys to the game was calling those timeouts. It actually saved us about 30 seconds."
All of the last-minute heroics could have been avoided had the Bears not made a crucial mental error during the Bison's previous touchdown drive. With Morgan State up 31-28 and Howard at its own 11 and ready to punt, the Bears were penalized for having 12 men on the field.
The penalty, which came with just over five minutes left, gave Howard a first down and took away what would have been good field position for Morgan State. Howard went on to score on a 12-yard Townsend pass to Elijah Thurmon, finishing a 13-play, 96-yard drive and putting the Bison up 35-31. Thurmon finished with 12 catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns.
"It really turned the game around when we had 12 men on the field for that punt," Mitchell said. "I think that really took the juice out. We put a new punt return in, and no one counted the people."
The Bears followed that miscue with another penalty on the Bison's game-winning drive, a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct foul that moved the ball to the Bears' 45.
"I don't want to point to the officiating because we put ourselves in that position," Mitchell said. "The key thing for us is personnel. We don't have the proper personnel to match up to certain teams, especially when they go up to four wide [receivers]."
The 38 points were the most scored by the Bears this season. The large point total is somewhat of a surprise considering senior quarterback Willie McGirt is out with a shoulder injury.
Mitchell got a glimpse of the future with Brown, who finished with one touchdown and 157 passing yards, but was just 8-for-23.
"We established the running game early, and Ali and Keith made it easy for me to pick out receivers," Brown said. "The line blocked the best it did all year. You just have to have faith that the defense will do its job. There's nothing I can do except watch."
The Bears' season concludes next week at Hampton.
"I still believe I have one more victory left in this team," Mitchell said. "Hopefully, that will be pulled out next week."
Next for Morgan
Site: Armstrong Stadium, Hampton, Va.
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
Record: 6-4 Yesterday: Idle.