Morgan State's once-promising start has eroded under a string of defeats.
Visiting Norfolk State administered the Bears' third consecutive loss Saturday at Hughes Stadium, taking control in the second half to win their Mid-Eastern Conference matchup, 31-23.
While losing their third in a row to Norfolk (5-4, 4-3 MEAC), the Bears managed only one score after the halftime, on a 52-yard field goal by Kemar Scarlett, whose 55-yarder at Delaware State earlier this season tied a league record.
The Spartans asserted themselves quickly after the break, driving the second-half kickoff 85 yards in seven snaps to assume a 28-20 lead. They ground up huge chunks of yardage on the drive, which was culminated by a 16-yard scoring pass from Dennis Brown to running back DeAngelo Branche.
Scarlett hit his long kick on the following Bears' possession, but that was the end of Morgan's offensive punch for the day.
Norfolk widened its lead to eight points on a 38-yard field goal by Justin Castellat with 3 1/2 minutes elapsed in the fourth quarter and Morgan never again advanced out of its own territory.
It was Norfolk's first road victory of the year after two MEAC setbacks.
"We just didn't play our game," Morgan coach Donald Hill-Eley said. "They ran the ball on us. They threw the ball on us. We had a very bad night defensively."
Added Morgan defensive end Justin Lawrence: " It came down to assignments that we didn't execute. We let our offense down. It was up to us to stop them, and we didn't."
The Bears harmed themselves as well with several personal foul penalties, finishing the game with nine infractions for 103 yards and supplementing the 145 yards accumulated by Branche on the ground and the 215 yards garnered through the air by Brown.
Morgan quarterback Carlton Jackson pointed to the interception he threw in the first quarter - returned 62 yards for a touchdown by Josh Anderson - as a key moment.
"We went right up the field and scored [on the game's first drive] and that [the interception] killed the momentum," Jackson said. "That was a big play for them. It really affected us."
Morgan dominated the first 20 minutes, but secured only a 10-7 lead because of that interception.
That Spartans touchdown offset a scoring drive of 65 yards by the Bears, who marched the opening kickoff to the end zone. A 26-yard completion to Edward Morton-Green set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Domanick West.
After surrendering the interception, Morgan regained the lead with a march to a 34-yard field goal by Scarlett before the two swapped possessions on an interception by Richard Wilson for Morgan and a defensive stand by the Spartans.
They exchanged the lead three more times with Norfolk going ahead 14-10 on a 33-yard connection from quarterback Dennis Brown to wide receiver Chris Bell and the Bears regaining command on a 1-yard plunge by West after a 32-yard completion from Jackson to Edwin Baptiste took the ball to the Norfolk 1.
But it didn't take Norfolk long to jump ahead again. The team consumed 80 yards in just five plays with the big ones being a 58-yard pass-run play from Brown to P.J. Hayden and a 21-yard Brown-to-Bell throw. Branche bucked over from the 2 for the touchdown and a 21-17 edge.
Scarlett hit a 38-yard field goal on the final play for the first half to narrow the margin to 21-20 after the Bears drove against the clock to the Spartans' 21.
Morgan honored its 20 seniors at their final home game during brief pre-game ceremonies.
7 14 7 3-31
7 13 3 0-23
First quarter Morg-D.West 3 run (Scarlett kick), 10:37. Norf-J.Anderson 62 interception return (Castellat kick), 4:40. Second quarter Morg-FG Scarlett 34, 12:44. Norf-Bell 33 pass from Brown (Castellat kick), 7:13. Morg-D.West 1 run (Scarlett kick), 4:25. Norf-D.Branche 2 run (Castellat kick), 2:13. Morg-FG Scarlett 38, :00. Third quarter Norf-D.Branche 16 pass from Brown (Castellat kick), 11:14. Morg-FG Scarlett 52, 8:14. Fourth quarter Norf-FG Castellat 38, 11:24. A-3,121.
First downs 21 16
Rushes-Yards 33-164 36-151
Passing 215 149
Cmp.-Att.-Int. 14-21-1 14-30-1
Return Yards 88 40
Punts-Avg. 3-39.3 4-42.5
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-0
Penalties-Yds. 5-57 9-103
Time of poss. 27:21 32:39
Rushing-Norfolk St., D.Branche 19-145, Cotton 3-14, Brown 10-8, Team 1-(minus 3). Morgan St., James 14-77, Jackson 16-58, D.West 4-11, Lawrence 2-5. Passing-Norfolk St., Brown 14-21-1-215. Morgan St., Jackson 14-29-1-149, Team 0-1-0-0. Receiving-Norfolk St., Bell 6-83, Hayden 5-109, D.Branche 1-16, Wicker 1-6, McCowan 1-1. Morgan St., Morton-Green 4-75, Baptiste 4-54, Diggs 3-15, Bryant 2-5, James 1-0.
MORGAN STATE @S.C. STATE
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Radio: 88.9 FM