BALTIMORE, Md. – For the fourth time in the last five clashes between North Carolina Central University and Morgan State University, the outcome was decided in the final seven minutes of the contest.
This time, NCCU (6-2, 5-0 MEAC) overcame first-half injuries to its offensive and defensive leaders to rally for a 21-17 come-from-behind victory, spoiling Morgan State’s homecoming at Hughes Stadium on Saturday.
After the opening kickoff, NCCU took just four plays and 1:35 on the clock to score on a 38-yard pass from senior quarterback Malcolm Bell to senior receiver LaVontis Smith.
Three plays into its initial drive, MSU (2-4, 2-2 MEAC) threw an interception to junior linebacker Reggie Hunter, which he returned to the Bears’ 20-yard line. [easyazon_infoblock align=”right” cart=”y” identifier=”B00Q0LVPES” locale=”US” tag=”hbcusports-20″]
Once again, four plays later sophomore running back Dorrel McClain blasted into the end zone from two yards out for a 14-0 cushion less than five minutes into the contest.
It appeared as though NCCU was on its way to a convincing victory. That was not the case.
After a 57-yard sprint by running back Eric Harrell set the Bears up at the NCCU 12-yard line, quarterback Chris Andrews found Ricky Fisk for an over-the-shoulder touchdown connection to pull MSU to within 14-7 at 5:02 of the first quarter.
Midway through the second quarter, NCCU junior Mike Jones dropped a punt and Morgan State recovered at the Eagles’ 7-yard line. The Bears evened the score on the next play, a 7-yard dash for a touchdown by Harrell.
The tone of the game completely changed at the 3:08 mark of the second quarter, when NCCU quarterback Bell got hit on a rushing attempt and not only lost the football, but suffered a head injury that kept him off the field for the remainder of the afternoon.
That was bad news for a team that already lost senior linebacker LeGrande Harley to a foot injury in the first quarter. The news worsened when NCCU back-up quarterback Naiil Ramadan threw an interception on his first pass attempt, which led to a go-ahead, 40-yard field goal by Alex Raya on the final play of the second quarter to provide MSU with a 17-14 edge at halftime.
After a scoreless third quarter, NCCU made the most of a MSU 18-yard punt that gave the Eagles the ball at the MSU 39-yard line. Ramadan used completions of four and 13 yards to Smith and Ramone Simpson, respectively, along with a 7-yard quarterback keeper to set up the game-winner. On second down and three yards to go, the redshirt-freshman signal caller lobbed a pass to Jalen Wilkes on a post route for a 16-yard touchdown with 3:59 remaining in the contest.
On MSU’s ensuing possession, NCCU defensive end Antonio Brown forced a fumble that was recovered by cornerback Nolan Corpening.
The Eagles used up 1:54 of the clock and punted the ball back to the Bears with 32 seconds left.
With Morgan State looking to hand the Eagles their first conference setback in more than a year, Hunter intercepted his second pass of the day to seal the victory for NCCU.
Hunter added eight tackles to his two interceptions, including two assisted stops for a loss. Senior linebacker Jeremy Miles also tallied eight takedowns with an assisted sack. Brown as all over the field for the Eagles, notching five tackles, including 2.5 hits for a loss with a pair of assisted sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and two quarterback hurries.
Before exiting the game, Bell completed 7 of 11 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown, while adding six ground yards. The Richmond, Virginia native now ranks second on NCCU’s career total offense list with 6,672 yards, as he passed Gerald Fraylon (1981-84; 6,620 yards) and will likely not catch Earl Harvey (1985-88; 10,667 yards).
In relief, Ramadan completed 6 of 8 passes for 77 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Smith collected four receptions for 65 yards and a score, while Kahlil Stinson also had four catches for 51 yards. Simpson accounted for 103 all-purpose yards with 85 rushing yards and 18 receiving yards on two grabs.
NCCU enters a bye week before returning to action on the road at Delaware State on Nov. 5.
Courtesy: NCCU Athletics