After starting fast but finishing poorly in its first two games, the Morgan State football team flipped the script Saturday.
The Bears overcame a lethargic start, woke up their sleeping offense and scored all four of the game's touchdowns in the second half to knock off visiting Bowie State, 28-3, before an announced 4,238 at Hughes Stadium.
Morgan State was happy to win its first game of the season, but Bears first-year coach Lee Hull said the team can ill afford slow starts.
"Offensively, we made mistakes and had penalties that in the last two games we did not have," Hull said of a game played in wet and chilly conditions. "I don't know if the guys underestimated them, but all week long, I told them that they had to come here with guns blazing and that it was going to be a dogfight if we left them in the game. The good thing is, the second half, we came out, made some adjustments and we ended up scoring. I thought they did a good job of focusing offensively and defensively."
Several Morgan State players said Hull lit into the team during halftime, and sophomore running back Herb Walker Jr. acknowledged that the Bears dodged a bullet Saturday.
"We can't start off slow," said Walker, who had a game-high 180 rushing yards and scored two touchdowns. "We need to come out here fast and finish like we did in the second half."
After forcing the Bulldogs (0-2) to punt on their opening possession of the third quarter, the Bears (1-2) needed just three plays and 68 seconds to take their first lead of the game.
Walker took the ball 39 yards up the middle on the first play to Bowie State's 6-yard line. After Walker was stopped for no gain on first-and-goal, senior quarterback Robert Council faked a handoff and ran up the middle into the end zone for a 7-3 lead with 11 minutes, 1 second left in the period.
The Bulldogs' ensuing series petered out at their 35, leading to another punt. Beginning at Bowie State's 48, the Bears mixed runs by Walker and Council to move 48 yards in six plays. Their drive was capped by Council's 7-yard touchdown run, and Morgan State pushed its advantage to 14-3 with 5:33 left in the third quarter.
That would be all the scoring the Bears needed. In the third quarter, junior cornerback DeShaun Summers forced a fumble that was recovered by redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Andrew Mitchell, the defense's first takeaway of the season. In the fourth quarter, senior strong safety Paul Eatman Jr. intercepted an underthrown pass by senior quarterback Matthew Goggans.
Morgan State also stopped two Bulldogs series on fourth down, and Walker added touchdown runs of 28 and 33 yards in the game's final three minutes.
"The thing that counts is going out there and doing what you've been coached to do," said junior outside linebacker Chris Robinson (Dunbar), whose four sacks Saturday almost matched his career total of five. "In the second half, we came out and tried to be stricter and hone up on doing our jobs. That's what helped us. Our goal is to go out there and play assignment football. Fortunately, we were able to do that for the most part."
Morgan State's second half made up for a forgettable first half. The offense mustered just three first downs in four possessions and had just 76 yards overall.
The Bears moved into Bowie State territory on three drives, but one series stalled on the 47, another on the 48, while the third went in reverse after a false-start penalty and late-hit call.
The Bulldogs marched 69 yards on a nine-minute-plus, 17-play opening drive, resulting in a 37-yard field goal by senior kicker Mario Diaz-Aviles. But Morgan State kept Bowie State from crossing midfield for the remainder of the first half.