Both Morgan State and Towson experienced problems on offense in Saturday night's season opener. Neither could move the ball consistently and both made mistakes.
But Towson came away with a 10-0 victory because its defense made some key plays, Morgan State committed too many miscues and the combination of the two gave the host Tigers just enough to escape with a win at Johnny Unitas Stadium.
The game was billed as the "Battle of Greater Baltimore," as the two schools met for the first time since 2011. Towson won that game, 42-3, and there was not nearly as much offense in this contest.
Morgan State actually moved the ball well at times and held an 84-54 edge in plays. The Bears (0-1) finished with 234 yards overall, but committed four turnovers, finished with 15 penalties for 137 yards and missed both of their field-goal attempts.
Towson had four penalties for 30 yards.
"A lot of bend-don't-break early for the defense," Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. "Couldn't do much on offense. But I think we found a little bit about ourselves and what we can do, especially in times of trouble."
Simply put, even though quarterback Elijah Staley completed 23 of 46 passes for 185 yards, the Bears kept stopping themselves in different ways.
Towson (1-0) did not fare as well on offense, ending up with just 102 total yards, getting over the century mark on the game's final play. The Tigers used two quarterbacks — Morgan Mahalak and Ryan Stover — to try to get things going at different times.
Towson's problems began early as it turned it over twice in its first four drives and gained just 55 yards in the first two quarters but still took a 10-0 halftime lead.
The Tigers got their first big break when Monty Fenner picked off a Staley pass at the Morgan State 34 and returned it to the 2-yard line.
"The quarterback, he was … staring them down," Fenner said. "So I just jumped it."
Shane Simpson scored on the next play, taking a quick pitch and easily running for a 2-yard touchdown. Aidan O'Neill added the extra point, and the Tigers took a 7-0 lead with 9:04 left in the first half.
Towson's offense finally got going in the final moments of the second quarter. On the Tigers' final drive of the half, Mahalak completed four of five passes with the last being a 15-yard throw to Shane Leatherbury that set up a 42-yard field goal by O'Neill with nine seconds left for the 10-0 lead.
Morgan State moved the ball better in the first half, especially in the air, and gained 86 yards overall, but kept hurting itself with miscues. The Bears had nine penalties for 93 yards before the break, Staley threw three interceptions and a bad snap cost them 15 yards and ruined a possible scoring drive.
The Bears wasted two more good scoring chances at the start of the second half. They drove to the Towson 27, but Alex Raya lined a 44-yard field goal wide left.
Ian McBorrough then picked off another Mahalak pass on the the Tigers' first drive of the half and gave Morgan State the ball at the Towson 25. The Bears faced fourth-and-1 at the 16 moments later, but DeAndre Harris was stopped for a 3-yard loss.
Towson missed on a chance to add to the lead in the fourth quarter when O'Neill went wide left on a 27-yard field goal. The Bears then drove 65 yards before Luke Uransel missed a 32-yard field goal with 3:09 left in the game.
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"If we're going to be a good football team, there's no way we can play and have 15 penalties, turn the ball over a bunch of times," Morgan State coach Fred T. Farrier said. "I have to do a better job of ensuring that we're putting our kids in a better position to be successful."