TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Drama didn't last long in the season opener for the Morgan State football team, leaving nearly three quarters of drudgery during a 56-25 loss to Florida A&M; in front of 17,184 last night at Bragg Stadium.
The game was over by halftime. At intermission, Florida A&M; (2-0, 2-0 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) had 60 minutes worth of points (39), quarterback Quinn Gray was 21-for-33 for 304 yards and three touchdown passes, and the Rattlers had kicked four field goals, leaving two quarters for Morgan State (0-1, 0-1) to try to erase a 39-7 deficit.
Aside from their opening drive, there were few bright spots for the Bears. Junior-college transfer and quarterback Custavious Patterson looked sharp to begin the game, but struggled as the Rattlers' defense began to apply more pressure, and tailback Ali Culpepper's effectiveness began to wane along with Patterson's.
Meanwhile, Gray ended up with 390 passing yards and four touchdowns as part of a 524-yard day for FAMU.
"I was really upset," Morgan State coach Stanley Mitchell said. "I thought the game would be a lot closer than it was, even with a young team. There were a lot of blown coverages. Some blown tackles, too."
The Bears, who play Towson on Saturday, have lost their past six meetings against the Rattlers. Since Morgan State's 24-20 win over the Rattlers in 1994, the Bears have lost to Florida A&M; by an average score of 59-15.
Morgan State, predicted to finish last in the MEAC, actually traded punches early with FAMU, the favorite to win the MEAC and a national title contender in Division I-AA.
The Bears countered the Rattlers' 70-yard, 90-second drive with one of their own. Twice, Patterson found MSU behind FAMU cornerback Neal Colzie's coverage, hooking up with Marc Lester on the second occasion for a 17-yard touchdown that tied the score 7-7 with 11:58 left in the first quarter.
After T.J. Hines' 36-yard touchdown catch put the Rattlers ahead two minutes later, both defenses kept the other team's offense from reaching the end zone for the next 18 minutes.
The difference was that Juan Vasquez kicked three of his school-record five field goals for Florida A&M; over the next 15:49 and Morgan State couldn't get past midfield.
Wide-out Jacquay Nunnally's five-yard touchdown run put FAMU ahead 30-7 with 6:08 left, and knocked out a Morgan State team given to demoralization.
"The toughest part is the will to come back once you're down ... trying to rally your teammates," Morgan State receiver Anthony Collins said.
Patterson, who passed for three touchdowns and two interceptions, lamented the mood swings bedeviling his team: "Until we get some sort of strong mental game, we aren't going to be able to beat teams like FAMU."
Marc Lester finished with six catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns, including the Bears' second of three scores in the second half, a 15-yarder with 9:24 left that made the score 56-19.(Summary, 12D)