WASHINGTON - Morgan State football coach Stanley Mitchell isn't satisfied with an 0-3 start, but there were enough bright spots in yesterday's 35-23 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference loss to Howard that he can manage optimism.
Without a complete meltdown of his defensive secondary, giving Howard 21 easy points on three long touchdown passes in the second quarter and a 28-7 halftime advantage, Morgan might have even been able to beat the Bison before 3,115 at Greene Stadium.
"We talked about it at the half. We knew we were a better team and we didn't play our type of game in the first half," Mitchell said. "We made some mistakes, but I was really proud of how we came back in the second half. I've got talent in spots, but I don't have all the spots filled right now. We knew we could score, and this team won't ever quit. I know it's hard to take a third loss, but the wins are going to come."
Howard has taken six straight from the Bears, but Morgan holds an overall 32-31-3 edge in the series that began in 1889.
Junior halfback Ali Culpepper and freshman quarterback Custavious Patterson provided plenty of excitement for Bears fans, particularly in the third quarter when Morgan rallied for 16 points to narrow its deficit to 28-23 with 3:17 left. Culpepper rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries and added 48 on two receptions. Patterson came on for the final series of the second quarter.
"I couldn't really say I enjoyed my accomplishments unless we came back and won the game," said Culpepper, Mitchell's stepson and Dunbar grad who rushed for 120 yards and four touchdowns in last season's 42-38 loss to the Bison. "We showed a lot of character. The team never gave up, even though we were down by a lot of points."
After a touchback on the second-half kickoff, Morgan (0-3, 0-2) marched to the Howard 9 in 12 plays before settling for Cameron Ashton's 26-yard field goal to make it 28-10. The key play in the drive was Patterson's 33-yard pass to Culpepper, putting Morgan on the 5.
Then the Bears' defense produced a couple of crucial turnovers. On first-and-26 at the Howard 26, Bison quarterback Bobby Townsend scrambled right, only to be separated from the ball by a crushing tackle by linebacker Sean Smith behind the line of scrimmage. Cornerback Jamar Williams covered the loose ball on the Howard 20.
On the second play, Culpepper swept left for 19 yards and a touchdown. After a failed extra point, the score stood 28-16 with 9:22 to go in the third.
Townsend had a pass picked off by Morgan's Micah Ramseur at the Morgan 37. That was one play after a Bison teammate fell on the loose ball after he was sacked and stripped of the ball by linebacker Justin Patton. The Bears marched six plays in 2:16, with Patterson's fourth completion of the drive going 28 yards to Marc Lester for the touchdown that closed the deficit to 28-23.
Twice the Morgan defense held, but so did Howard's. In the fourth quarter, Howard (1-3, 1-1) started at its 14 with 8:31 left in the game and rushed 10 straight times, with Jermaine Hutchinson's 16-yard gallop up the gut for a touchdown finalizing the score at 35-23.
"They got a drive when they needed it most," Mitchell said.
With Culpepper sidelined after jamming both big toes on the artificial surface, Morgan moved deep into Howard territory, riding Patterson's arm. On fourth-and-19 at the Howard 34, Patterson completed a pass up the middle to Lester, who fumbled it through the end zone after being hit by Howard Lank at the 2 with 1:27 to go.
Howard 7 21 0 7 - 35 Morgan State 7 0 16 0 - 23
Next for Morgan
Site: Nassau, Bahamas
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Yesterday: Beat Morris Brown, 14-9