EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Fans who arrived late missed the decisive plays, but then Morgan State also seemed to show up late yesterday, giving up a long touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage in falling behind Hampton by 17 points in the first quarter en route to a 49-37 loss to the Pirates in the New York Urban League Classic at Giants Stadium.
Quarterback Bradshaw Littlejohn took it upon himself to bring back Morgan, completing 28 of 47 passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns and also running for three scores, but it wasn't enough.
Morgan opened the game with a squib kickoff designed to keep the ball away from Jerome Mathis, who had returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in Hampton's first three games.
"They've got a world-class sprinter on the back end," said Bears coach Donald Hill-Eley. "I knew with him, if you miss one tackle he's gone."
In fact, Mathis was gone on the very next play, the first from scrimmage. He took off down the middle of the field and gathered in Princeton Shepherd's long pass for a 65-yard touchdown. Just 17 seconds had elapsed.
Hill-Eley knew coming in that his team would face a test from Hampton, ranked No. 20 in Division I-AA. He also said he expected a challenge from Shepherd, even though he hadn't thrown for more than 174 yards in any college game.
"We knew it was going to be a play-action pass," Hill-Eley said of the opening play. "They were going to challenge us because we had three freshmen in our secondary. We've got 19-year-old kids playing in Giants Stadium.
"I'm yelling at the safety to get deep, but he's not listening to me because he's in Giants Stadium. It's the biggest event in these players' lives."
Compounding that mistake was the first of two interceptions by Pirates middle linebacker Justin Durant against Littlejohn. That pick set up the first of Andrew Paterini's three field goals; Durant returned his second interception for the first six points of the second half.
"Turnovers had to be the key to this game," said Littlejohn, who produced 424 yards in all. "I tried to force a couple of passes in there when I should have thrown the ball away."
The Bears entered planning to control the clock with a running game that had averaged 243 yards in their first three games. But after Shepherd threw another long touchdown pass -- 41 yards to Dereck Faulkner -- and ran 17 yards for another touchdown, Hampton had a 23-6 lead.
Most of the Bears' running was by a scrambling Littlejohn, who had 16 of their 26 carries for 84 of their of 112 yards. The flip side was that he had to throw 47 times.
The loss in Morgan State's first Mid-Eastern Conference game this season dropped its overall record to 1-3. Hampton improved to 4-0 overall and 2-0 in the conference.
Morgan State 6 6 13 12 -- 37
Hampton 23 6 14 6 -- 49
First quarter H--Mathis 65 pass from Shepherd (kick failed), 14:43 H--FG Paterini 22, 10:20 H--Faulkner 41 pass from Shepherd (Paterini kick), 8:01 M--Littlejohn 2 run (kick blocked), 3:31 H--Shepherd 17 run (Paterini kick), 0:25 Second quarter M--Dixon blocked punt recovered in end zone (run failed), 11:09 H--FG Paterini 30, 8:42 H--FG Paterini 31, 0:05 Third quarter H--Durant 25 interception return (Paterini kick), 14:49 M--Manus 6 pass from Littlejohn (run failed), 11:18 M--Littlejohn 5 run (Keever kick), 2:30 H--Daniels 4 run (Paterini kick), 0:14 Fourth quarter H--Daniels 5 run (kick failed), 9:49 M--Littlejohn 20 run (pass failed), 6:23 M--Dixon 30 pass from Littlejohn (run failed), 5:21 A--42,682.
First downs 22 22
Rushes-yards 26-112 46-209
Passing 340 260
Comp-Att-Int 28-47-3 12-23-0
Return Yards 197 82
Punts-Avg. 3-41 3-30
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 10-80 7-59
Time of Possession 30:12 29:48
Rushing--Morgan State, Littlejohn 18-84, Jackson 9-32, Johnson 1-(-4). Hampton, Daniels 15-111, Coleman 17-43, Shepherd 8-34, Dixon 3-15, Lewis 1-3. Passing--Morgan State, Littlejohn 28-47-3-340. Hampton, Shepherd 12-23-0-260. Receiving--Morgan State, Dickens 7-147, Trotter 6-65, Manus 6-20, Cash 2-29, Jackson 2-18. Hampton, Faulkner 4-91, McDaniel 4-75, Mathis 2-78, Jones 2-16.
Next for Morgan
Matchup: Bethune-Cookman (2-1, 1-0) vs. Morgan State (1-3, 0-1)
Site: Hughes Stadium
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
Radio: WEAA (88.9 FM)
Yesterday: Bethune-Cookman beat Norfolk State, 43-3