The season didn't exactly get off to a good start for Morgan State. The Bears opened with two horrible losses to Towson (30-2) and Monmouth (26-9). But Morgan State head coach Donald Hill-Eley didn't push the panic button. Instead, he rallied his troops in grand fashion.
Morgan State's first win was over Bowie State, a Division II team from the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA), and a rival school right down the road. The following week the Bears gave No. 12 Hampton a good run before succumbing to the Pirates, 26-7, in the New York City Classic.
Since then, Morgan State has been on a roll. The Bears spanked Bethune-Cookman (28-14) and last week clobbered North Carolina A&T (32-0). This resurgence has enabled the Bears to move into second place behind Hampton in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference standings. Morgan State will travel down I-95 to face Howard University (1-4 overall, 0-2 league) on Saturday in Washington, D.C.
Hill-Eley feels the defense has made a huge impact in the team's turnaround. Morgan State's defense held N.C. A&T to 148 total yards.
"We got eight young men," Hill-Eley said. "We call it a race to the quarterback. They're doing a great job for us. Their whole thing is rushing to the quarterback, getting those sacks and making plays. Those guys are doing great with their zone drops and getting interceptions.
"They're just having fun. It all starts up front. When those guys decided to play better we became a better team. We gained a lot of strength and size in the defensive line with our recruiting. With the insertion of [defensive end] Terrell Floyd and Bryan Wilson at the other end and [nose guard] Robert Armstrong pushing that pocket and containing the quarterback, they're doing a great job for us."
Although the defensive line has been major part of the Bears' success, it looks like the change at quarterback has made the biggest difference. Senior Bryan Selby suffered an injured finger on his right hand in the Hampton game. Hill-Eley inserted backup signal caller Mario Melton into the game. Melton has given the Bears' offense quite a lift in the last two games.
The 6-foot-2 sophomore accounted for 239 yards of total offense and two touchdowns in his first start against Bethune-Cookman. He completed 10-of-16 passes for 133 yards and a 61-yard touchdown pass, along with 106 yards rushing on 10 carries and a 70-yard TD run.
In the win over the Aggies, he led the Bears with 168 yards and rushed for two TDs. He also completed 9-of-20 passes without committing any turnovers.
"Super Mario glad he's coming along and doing some great things with the offense," Hill-Eley said. "He's putting us in great position. He's not doing anything to hurt us. He has gotten better week in and week out.
"When you're a backup you're riding around and go to get dressed and watch the other guy play. You get in the habit of doing that. Then, all of a sudden, the coach says, 'Let's go.' They yelled for me. That's pretty much what happened. Now, he goes into the game with the expectations of playing. Waiting your turn and being ready when the opportunity comes."
Melton was certainly ready when his time came.
• Temi Omotade, Morgan State defensive end, was named the MEAC Defensive Player of the Week. Omotade helped the Bears record their first shutout of the season. He finished with a team-high five tackles, one quarterback hurry and an interception.
• Delaware State quarterback Vashon Winton was named the MEAC Offensive Player of the Week. Winton completed 17-of-25 passes for 190 yards and two TDs as the Hornets defeated Bethune-Cookman, 33-31.
• North Carolina A&T junior wide receiver Curtis Walls is the latest talented musical Aggie. Over the previous two years, the Aggies had a gospel choir that travels to schools and churches to sing. Walls is an accomplished piano player who learned how to play as a child. Walls is also North Carolina A&T's leading receiver.
• Hampton will host Norfolk State in a huge black college football rivalry on Saturday. The game has been tagged for many years as the "Battle of the Bay."
• Jay Peck, Alabama State running back, had his fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing game in a losing effort against Jackson State. Peck had 25 carries for 103 yards.
• Jackson State head coach Rick Comegy coached a number of NFL players during his career as a Division II and NAIA head coach. Comegy coached at Cheyney University, Central State and Tuskegee University. He coached Erik Williams (Central State, Dallas Cowboys), Hugh Douglas (Central State, Philadelphia Eagles), Vince Buck (Central State, New Orleans Saints) and James "Big Cat" Williams (Cheyney University, Chicago Bears).
Anthony Mitchell of the 2001 Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens was Comegy's first Tuskegee player to sign a pro contract. His latest standout is Tuskegee's Drayton Florence who plays for the San Diego Chargers.
• Brandon Landers, Grambling State quarterback, was named the Southwestern Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week. Landers finished 15-of-26 passing for 213 yards and one TD while rushing three times for 22 yards and a touchdown in a victory over Mississippi Valley State.
• Julius Love, Mississippi Valley State's junior linebacker, was named the SWAC Defensive Player of the Week. Love had 15 total tackles (seven solo) along with two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery against Grambling State.
Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune.