Morgan State completed the first portion of its "Unfinished Business" last night, a reference to the team's motto for this season after registering its first winning record since 1979.
A comeback ignited by the recovery of an onside kick to start the second half carried the host Bears to a 19-16 victory over local rival Towson before 4,574 in the opener for both schools.
It was the Bears' first victory at Hughes Stadium in the series since 1980, and only their second overall win in the past 14 meetings between the two Division I-AA schools.
Trickery and a little gambling by the coaching staff helped the Bears, who overcame a 16-12 deficit with 4:13 left in the game when quarterback Bradshaw Littlejohn rumbled 57 yards for the winning touchdown.
The clinching score came in a risky situation for Morgan. It was fourth-and-one on the Bears' 43 when Morgan coach Donald Hill-Eley sent in the 260-pound Littlejohn after Lejominick Washington had directed the first three plays of the series. Littlejohn was practically untouched on the touchdown.
"It was a two-way play," Hill-Eley said. "If the slot came open, he was to throw it. If not, he could take off and run."
No one has to tell Littlejohn to run more than once. He relishes plowing over players.
"On a sprint-out, my receivers were covered, so I just took off," Littlejohn said. "I was running just to be running. I saw a cornerback coming from the right, but I got away."
A taunting penalty against Littlejohn on the touchdown and a subsequent illegal procedure infraction after what appeared a good two-point conversion pass forced Bears kicker Jon Voroshilin to kick a 40-yard extra point.
"That was my career-long extra point," said Voroshilin, who later suffered a cramp while trying to kick off, which delayed the game.
The onside kick by Voroshilin, who recovered the ball, caught Towson off-guard to launch the second half. Morgan went 54 yards in six plays after the surprise, with Littlejohn plunging in from the 1 to cut Towson's lead to 10-7 after the Voroshilin extra point.
"In the first half, we were tense and antsy," Hill-Eley said. "We needed to settle down, and we had to do something quick. We were lucky we got to the second half only 10 points down. The onside kick did it.
"They had the momentum, shutting us off the first half. If we kicked the ball and gave them an opportunity to drive, well, we didn't want that."
On Towson's next series, Morgan's Choo Choo Davis blocked a punt attempt out of the end zone for a safety to make it 10-9.
The Tigers surrendered the lead on a 28-yard Voroshilin field goal with 10 minutes to play, but came back with a 70-yard touchdown drive kept alive by a great catch by Jason Galloway for a 24-yard gain on third down. Mikal Lundy finished the advance with a 17-yard touchdown on a counter run with 6:27 to go.
After a two-point pass attempt failed, the Tigers had a 16-12 edge before Littlejohn's heroic run that gave Morgan its first season-opening win since a 54-20 conquest of Charleston Southern in 1993.
Without changing or showering, Towson immediately boarded its buses to return to campus, and Tigers coach Gordy Combs did not comment after the game.
"We've had that onside kick in our game plan for a while now," Voroshilin said. "We've been planning on using that against Towson since the end of last season. It certainly swung the momentum in our favor."
Morgan overcame nine penalties to hold the Tigers to 46 net yards rushing, thanks to six sacks of Towson quarterback Jason Amer, and prevailing on special teams.
Penalties, a drop on a potential touchdown pass and a botched snap on a field-goal attempt helped keep Morgan scoreless in the first half as Towson played conservatively and earned a 10-0 lead.
The Tigers scored on their first possession, driving 83 yards in 12 plays for a 7-0 lead with 4:56 remaining in the first quarter.
With the Bears blitzing on the play, Amer hit Lundy on a crossing pattern and Lundy found open field to complete a 36-yard touchdown. Freshman Stephan Toth kicked the extra point.
Earlier - during Morgan's first drive - Washington had receiver Kelvin Dickens wide open on a deep pattern, but Dickens couldn't hold the ball with the end zone beckoning and Morgan eventually punted.
After an exchange of punts, the Tigers halted Morgan's first advance with Littlejohn at quarterback when Dickens was called for offensive interference on a completion to the Towson 6. Littlejohn was then picked off by Brian Fitzpatrick on the next play when no receiver was anywhere near the ball.
Next for Morgan
Matchup: Morgan State (1-0) vs. Florida A&M; (0-1)
Site: Bragg Memorial Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Radio: WEAA (88.9 FM)
Yesterday: Florida A&M; lost to Alabama State, 38-22.
Next for Towson
Matchup: Lock Haven (0-0) vs. Towson (0-1)
Site: Minnegan Field at Towson Stadium
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Radio: WTMD (89.7 FM)