ATLANTA - When Ali Culpepper scored a touchdown on a 10-yard run, putting Morgan State up a point in the fourth quarter against Morris Brown College yesterday, it appeared that the Bears were just a song and dance away from equaling the sum total of victories amassed the previous two seasons.
All the Bears had to do, with 6:11 remaining in the game after Culpepper's second touchdown of the afternoon, was play good pass defense to close the deal.
That didn't happen. As a result, Morgan State suffered a 22-20 loss in front of a homecoming crowd of 13,288 at Herndon Stadium.
In pursuit of its first home victory of the season, Morris Brown (2-5) marched from its 19-yard line to the Bears' 18, and got the margin of victory when sophomore James Stevens kicked a 35-yard field goal with 46 seconds left.
On that decisive drive, Morris Brown quarterback Stanley Hardy, benched after the team suffered its second loss of the season back on Sept. 8, completed three passes for 62 yards while scrambling away from the Bears' pressure.
"We made too many mistakes and played undisciplined ball," said Morgan coach Stanley Mitchell, after his team suffered its second loss in as many weeks. "We were afraid that if we let a team like this stay around, we'd have problems."
The Bears (2-6) had their problems almost from the game's outset. Jonathan Vorosholin missed a 37-yard field-goal try on their opening possession. Then they found themselves down 7-0 after quarterback Lejominick Washington had a pass picked off by cornerback Keon Mainer, who returned the interception 32 yards to Morgan State's 33. Two plays later, tailback Nate Anderson scored from 3 yards out.
Culpepper (140 rushing yards on 39 carries) tied the score at 7-7 when he capped an 11-play, 80-yard drive on a 1-yard run with two seconds left in the first quarter. But within the next seven minutes, Vorosholin missed a second field-goal attempt (from 25 yards) and the Bears' defense allowed Morris Brown to put together a five-play, 78-yard scoring drive.
Morgan trailed 19-7 before backup Jorge Pena replaced Washington in the third quarter. Pena helped narrow the margin to 19-13 when he completed a 22-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vishante Shancoe with four seconds left in the quarter. A short punt gave the Bears the ball at Morris Brown's 30 midway through the fourth, setting up Culpepper's touchdown that put Morgan ahead 20-19 with 6:11 remaining.
Then came the boom that doomed the Bears - Stevens' 35-yard field goal.
"We just didn't raise the bar to our caliber of football," Mitchell said. "And those field goals we missed look awfully big now."
Morgan State 7 0 6 7 - 20
Morris Brown 7 6 6 3 - 22
Next for Morgan
Opponent: Norfolk State
Site: Hughes Stadium
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
Yesterday: Beat Howard, 7-0