For most of yesterday's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opener, Morgan State contained Bethune-Cookman's dynamic freshman quarterback and its powerful running attack, but a breakdown midway through the third quarter and a missed extra point proved to be critical in the end.
Maurice Francois' 82-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Kirkland in the third quarter gave the Wildcats a 10-point cushion and Morgan State fell short in the final drive of the game in the Wildcats' 31-27 victory. Bethune-Cookman's wishbone offense had 185 yards on the ground, below its average of 250.2 per game, and converted two Morgan State fumbles into 14 points.
"Just collectively, we made too many mistakes to be victorious," Morgan State coach Donald Hill-Eley said. "The mistakes that we created were at inopportune times on both sides of the football. You can't have that against a team like that when they are eating up the clock and have a ball-control-style offense."
Francois has brought a new dimension to the Wildcats' offense by averaging 150 rushing yards per game. The Bears, however, held him to 25 yards on 19 carries. Francois, who has been named the MEAC Rookie of the Week twice in four weeks, was also sacked three times and completed four of eight passes for 125 yards. His favorite target was Kirkland, who had four catches for 110 yards and the touchdown.
The Wildcats (4-1, 2-1 MEAC) took a 14-0 lead in the opening 11 minutes on a 9-yard run by Brian Sumlar and a 24-yard run by Corey Council. After a sluggish start, the Bears moved the ball behind running back Devan James, who finished with 110 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown.
"We had a pretty good temp out there today, but what hurt us was the turnovers," James said. "You can't have those, especially late in the game. We tried to keep the ball away from them as much as we could. It was a battle."
The Bears (2-3, 0-1) scored two second-quarter touchdowns on an end-zone fumble recovery by Carlton Jackson and a 2-yard run by James and trailed 17-13 at the half. Jackson completed 12 of 23 passes for 187 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He was sacked three times.
Morgan's ability to move the ball was encouraging, and the unit finished with 361 total yards, compared with 109 in last week's 38-0 loss to Rutgers.
"We knew we were going to have problems," Wildcats coach Alvin Wyatt said. "They've beaten us the last two years, it was about time for us to get back on course with the teams that we're going up against."
The Bears' offense, however, committed another costly turnover in the second half when Jackson fumbled and the Wildcats' Travis Roland recovered and ran the ball back 22 yards for the score. After a 28-yard touchdown reception by Jai Wilson appeared to get Morgan State back into the game, Francois found Kirkland on the 82-yard pass for a 31-21 lead.
The Bears responded with a nine-play, 63-yard drive that ended when Jackson found Edwin Baptiste for a 27-yard score. James Meade's extra-point attempt was blocked. Bethune-Cookman fumbled on Morgan State's 2-yard line with 2:08 left, but the Bears fell short on the final drive.
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