Norfolk State uses turnovers to stifle Morgan State 30-0

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

NORFOLK, Va. -- Norfolk State wasted little time taking advantage of Morgan State turnovers.
The Spartans needed just seven plays and less than two minutes in the first half to score their first 27 points off four turnovers, including an interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Deon King, on their way to a 30-0 win in Saturday's season finale at Dick Price Stadium.
"Our defense has been pretty consistent all year," said Norfolk State coach Pete Adrian. "That's what you're supposed to do, and it certainly helps our offense out."
The Spartans gave up just 221 yards, more than 60 below their average, while forcing five turnovers.
On the opening possession, defensive lineman Cameron Jude, on a stunt, sacked Bears quarterback Robert Council and caused him to fumble. The Spartans' Jamal Giddens recovered on the 4-yard line.
"I just worked my way to the quarterback, and when I (got) him down, I saw he didn't have the ball," Jude said. "I was like, 'Oh snap, I hope one of our players got the ball.' And sure enough, we did."
Two plays and 30 seconds later, Brendon Riddick, running out of the wildcat formation, ran into the end zone from 2 yards. Everett Goldberg's extra point was blocked.
Another kickoff and two penalties put the Bears back on their 3-yard line to start their second drive. On the third play, Keenan Lambert picked off Council's pass and returned it to the Bears' 12.
Following an illegal block on the return, the Spartans needed just three more plays and 55 seconds to go 22 yards, with quarterback Nico Flores throwing a 16-yard strike to Xavier Boyce -- his fourth touchdown reception of the season. Goldberg's extra point gave the Spartans a 13-0 lead.
Morgan State (3-7, 2-5 MEAC) then went to a no-huddle offense looking for a spark, and it produced its best drive to that point -- 29 yards on nine plays -- with Ervin Gonzalez's 37-yard punt pinning the Spartans back at their 3.
The Spartans stalled on their next two drives, but Morgan State couldn't take advantage, as Council was picked off twice more, the second returned 15 yards by King for a touchdown.
"When you're in the position like we are, when you're just trying to find reasons to play, they gave you every reason not to play," Morgan State coach Donald Hill-Eley said.
On its next possession, Norfolk State (4-7, 2-6 MEAC) put together its longest scoring drive of the afternoon, going 73 yards in just 29 seconds and two plays.
Flores found tight end Joseph Hawkins alone down the right sideline for 44 yards, then hit receiver Derrick Demps for a 29-yard touchdown, giving the Spartans a 27-0 lead they carried into halftime. Flores was 14 of 26 for 216 yards in the game.
"From the first couple of games of the season to the last two games, he's really grown up a lot," Adrian said. "I think the fact he didn't play for a while gave him a little more understanding, actually played a couple of other positions, came back and did really well."
The Spartans tacked on a 46-yard field goal by Goldberg in the third quarter for their only second-half points.
The Bears, with Seth Higgins coming in for the injured Council, mustered little offensive prowess, with the two quarterbacks combining for 14-of-35 passing, just 142 yards and Council's three interceptions.
Higgins engineered the Bears' best drive of the afternoon in the fourth quarter, a 15-play, 70-yard drive that stalled on the Spartans' 12, setting up what would have been a 29-yard field goal attempt. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Higgins, however, forced an errant 45-yarder from Gonzalez.
"When you're bad and you're out there doing things that are out of character, those are the type of things that happen," Hill-Eley said. "You find ways, rather than helping the team, they found ways today to hurt the team. It was a collaboration across the board."
Besides the turnovers, the Bears were plagued by penalties: flagged 15 times for 129 yards. The Spartans were flagged 11 times for 119 yards.
"You're trying to find ways to motivate guys to take advantage of and make their plays ... and (the Spartans) just sat on the lead after that and they started playing with a lot more energy," Hill-Eley said. "(Our) guys shot the tank. I've never seen our team play like that, at no point in my time there."
Adrian, pleased to end the season on a two-game winning streak, said he'll look to get more offensive consistency next season while cutting down on penalties and turnovers. He said he would use his successful defense as a starting point.
"That's a nice thing for them to hang their hat on in the offseason and try to build on," Adrian said.
NOTES: Morgan State offensive lineman Joshua Durden suffered a concussion in the third quarter and was taken off the field on a stretcher to a local hospital for further evaluation. Hill-Eley said the team's trainers told him Durden was alert and coherent. ... The matchup between Norfolk State and Morgan State was a contrast from last season, when the Spartans clinched the MEAC championship with a 47-14 win in Baltimore. ... Norfolk State came into the game No. 4 among FCS schools and second in the MEAC in defense, allowing just 283.8 yards per game. ... Bears safety Darien Irby was ejected late in the fourth quarter following a second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.