Many of the problems that hindered Morgan State's offense last season carried over Saturday in its season opener against Division II Bowie State.
The defense, however, showed vast improvement, forcing five turnovers, and paved the way for a 14-7 victory before an announced 7,419 at Hughes Stadium. The Bears will have little time to savor the win as they must get ready to play Saturday at Maryland for the first time in program history.
"We have a lot of new faces on the defense," coach Donald Hill-Eley "They played well together against a team that had a game to play before us. They looked sharp. Our defense had some three-and-outs and we held them until we could get something going on offense."
The Bears' run defense, ranked last in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference last season by allowing 179.5 yards per game, appears to be much improved with the return of six starters. The Bears held Bowie State's ground attack to minus-33 yards on 24 carries, and limited the Bulldogs (0-2) to just 73 total yards overall. Janary Gray, Joe Rankin and Bakari Smith each had interceptions for the Bears, who also had three sacks.
"We are just working hard and executing," Rankin said. "The coaches put us in the right position to make the plays. We just went from there and made turnovers."
The Bears finished near the bottom of the MEAC in several offensive categories last season, and they struggled to get much going against the Bulldogs. Morgan State finished with 153 yards of total offense, and the highlight was four field goals by Kemar Scarlett -- a team record.
"Being a kicker, you're only out there for one play," Scarlett said. "You go out there and do your job. That's the way I look at it. The offense put me in position to score three points and I am going to execute."
Morgan State running back Jourdan Brooks, who transferred this past off-season from Rutgers, finished with 62 yards on 27 carries.
Morgan State took the lead on a 39-yard field goal by Scarlett. The Bears failed to convert two other chances to score inside the red zone. Bowie State's Tyrae Reid Jr. (Poly) was ejected in the second quarter after Morgan State recovered a fumble and a skirmish ensued.
The Bulldogs took the lead with 2:54 left in the half on a 10-yard by Rodney Webb (Milford Mill). The run capped a 9-play, 70-yard drive that ate 3:58 off the clock. Scarlett made a 44-yard field goal with 15 seconds left and the Bears trailed 7-6 at the half. The Bears' offense managed just 66 total yards in the first half, compared to 73 for Bowie State.
The Bears took an 8-7 lead with 9:44 left in the third quarter on a muffed punt from the 10 that went through the end zone for a safety. Field goals from 33 and 44 yards by Scarlett in the fourth quarter gave Morgan State the seven-point margin.