RICHMOND, VA. — The Morgan State football team found itself in a hole after the first quarter in five games this season, and lost four.
That trend held true Saturday as the Bears fell into a 22-0 deficit after the first 15 minutes and couldn't recover in a 46-24 loss to No. 18 Richmond before an announced 4,126 at E. Claiborne Robins Stadium in a NCAA Football Championship Subdivision first-round playoff game.
The loss was the Bears' second in their last five games, but both were lopsided. Morgan State was shut out, 45-0, by North Carolina A&T on Nov. 8.
The Bears (7-6) — who had captured a share of their first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title in 35 years — had few answers for the Spiders (9-4), who rolled up 463 yards of offense, 26 first downs, and the most points in the school's postseason history.
The turning point was that first quarter in which Richmond outgained Morgan State, 176-34, in yards and 10-2 in first downs.
"We got into a 22-0 hole and then we tried to scratch our way back," coach Lee Hull said. "I did think our team — as they have done all year long — fought and kept fighting for 60 minutes. But when you dig yourself in a hole that early, it's hard to overcome."
The team did have a bright spot in redshirt sophomore running back Herb Walker Jr., who recorded his seventh 100-yard outing of the season with 120 yards on 21 carries and became just the third opposing tailback to reach the century mark against Richmond.
But the rest of the Bears offense struggled, posting just 267 yards, 17 first downs, and three third-down conversions on nine attempts in the first three quarters when the Spiders led, 39-17.
Redshirt junior quarterback Moses Skillon accounted for all three of Morgan State's touchdowns. He rushed for a 3-yard score in the second quarter and connected with redshirt junior wide receiver Andrew King (Atholton) on a 46-yard touchdown in the third and senior wide receiver Ladarious Spearman on an 8-yard score in the fourth.
But Skillon, who completed 51.1 percent (23-of-45) of his passes for 285 yards, completed 6 of 12 passes for 33 yards in the first half and was responsible for the team's four turnovers (three interceptions and a fumble).
"In the first quarter, we didn't put up enough points, but most of that has got to do with me," said Skillon, who tossed 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions in five starts. "I've got to take care of the ball better."
While the offense was stymied by Richmond defense, the Bears defense had its own troubles. Morgan State's pass rush — which had entered the game tied for 17th in the country with 32 sacks — got redshirt senior quarterback Michael Strauss just once.
A Spiders pass-protection unit that permitted just 12 sacks this fall — 14th-fewest in the nation — gave Strauss plenty of time in the pocket to dissect Morgan State's pass coverage.
On the opening possession of the game, Strauss went 3-for-3 for 37 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Reggie Diggs just 2 minutes, 57 seconds into the game. That score was aided by a 56-yard kick return by junior Jacobi Green to the Bears' 37-yard line.
Redshirt junior running back Seth Fisher capped Richmond's next two series with 1-yard scoring runs and Strauss finished the first quarter completing 8 of 9 passes for 100 yards.
Morgan State redshirt sophomore kicker Chris Moller converted a 29-yard field goal and Skillon (nine rushes for 37 yards) ran up the middle on the offense's next two drives to trim the Spiders' advantage to 22-10 with 9:10 left in the second quarter.
But Richmond — which will face No. 6 Coastal Carolina (11-1) in the second round — ended the first half with a 15-play, 80-yard possession that resulted in a Strauss-to-Diggs connection for an 11-yard score.
Strauss completed 22 of 32 passes (68.8 percent) for 272 yards and four touchdowns, while Diggs finished with eight catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Still, Spiders coach Danny Rocco said he didn't feel comfortable until the final horn sounded.
"We were kind of firing on all cylinders early in the game," Rocco said. "I knew they would fight back. I was very impressed with coach Hull's football team. They fought all year long. They won three football games on the last drive of the game, and I knew that his team would not go away or fold. I thought it would be a 60-minute game."