Saturday, November 26, 2016

SSU ends season with 35-24 loss at home to Morgan State

SAVANNAH, Georgia -- Savannah State's football team suffered its first home loss of the season, a 35-24 setback against Morgan State, in both teams' Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference season finale Saturday at T.A. Wright Stadium.

A crowd of 1,267 watched as SSU (3-7 overall, 3-5 MEAC) fell short in its quest to finish with a .500 record in conference play and end unbeaten at home for the first time since joining the MEAC in 2011. SSU also was trying to go undefeated at home for the first time since 1999, when the Tigers went 5-0 in the NCAA Division II Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

"Today was disappointing but I just told them that, overall, I thought we took a step forward in our program," said SSU first-year head coach Erik Raeburn, whose Tigers faced the Bears in a game that was rescheduled from Oct. 8 because of Hurricane Matthew.

"Most importantly, I think the seniors had the biggest part in that," Raeburn continued. "When there's a coaching change, it's toughest on the older guys. They could have been less receptive and we wouldn't have won those three games and we'd still be floundering around. But they pulled together and got the team all on the same page and found a way to get three wins, and built a foundation for us to work from this season."

SSU beat Bethune-Cookman, 16-10, on Sept. 24 at T.A. Wright Stadium. The Tigers also won at home against Howard, 31-27, on Oct. 29 and they won at home against Norfolk State, 31-14, on Nov. 5.

With its loss to Morgan State (3-8, 3-5), SSU extended its losing streak to three games to end the season. The Tigers dropped to 0-9 in the series against the Bears, who snapped a six-game losing streak to end the season.

After playing the final game of his SSU career, senior defensive end Marquis Smith did not want to take off his helmet. He even wore it during post-game interviews.
"I'm going to eventually take it off," he said. "I'm just enjoying the moment right now. Last game. Lately, I've found myself just trying to take in each moment."

Smith, who was moved from linebacker to defensive end to start this season, finished his final game with a game-high 14 tackles, including two for loss and a sack.

"It all showed up on film," Smith said of Morgan State's offense. "Everything they did today they had already shown on film. I knew what to expect. When I saw a certain formation, I knew what to expect. That helped me out a lot today. Most of their plays, the formations they did today, were all on film so if you watch film it makes your job a whole lot easier."

Morgan State's first possession of the game ended when SSU linebacker Mulik Simmons intercepted quarterback Chris Andrews and returned the ball 16 yards to the Bears' 32-yard line. Three plays later, SSU running back Cantrell Frazier rushed left and turned up field for a 22-yard touchdown, and senior John Barron kicked the first of his three extra points, for a 7-0 lead with 11:44 to go in the first quarter.

Morgan State's Andrews connected with wide receiver Landen Malbrough for a 5-yard touchdown, cutting it to 7-6 with 8:25 left in the first quarter. Kicker Alex Raya missed the extra-point attempt.

SSU freshman T.J. Bell, who started at quarterback, suffered a thumb injury during the Tigers' first drive.

"He went out the second drive and tried to go on the first play but took himself out," Raeburn said. "It's his thumb. I don't know. He said he can't go, he can't grip the ball. I don't know if it's a fracture. I don't know."

SSU freshman Blake Dever played the rest of the game at quarterback and finished 19-of-35 passing for 226 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He ran 10 times for a team-high 31 yards.

"I thought (Dever) did a good job," Raeburn said. "Tough situation to get put into. They were playing a lot of man-to-man, and blitzing and getting after the quarterback. I thought he did a really good job. There's a few throws he wishes he had back but I felt like the more he was in there the better he played. He put together some really nice drives for us and made some big-time throws, and gave us a chance to get back in it."

With 14:52 left in the second quarter, Morgan State's Andrews connected with wide receiver Grayling Harrison for a 5-yard touchdown in the back-left corner of the end zone. Raya kicked the first of his three extra points, giving the Bears a 13-7 lead.

Morgan State went up 20-7 when running back Lamont Brown ran up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal with 8:09 left before halftime.

SSU's Barron kicked a 29-yard field goal that cut it to 20-10 with 5 seconds left before halftime. The score capped a 15-play, 78-yard drive that consumed 3:59 off the game clock.

Two plays into SSU's first drive of the third quarter, Dever was intercepted by Morgan State cornerback Corvon'Tra Revell. The Bears capped a seven-play, 51-yard drive with backup quarterback DeAndre Harris' 4-yard touchdown pass to Harrison for a 27-10 lead.

SSU cut it to 27-17 when Dever connected with wide receiver Derek Kirkland for a 48-yard touchdown with 7:31 left in the third quarter. Kirkland finished with six catches for a team-high 78 yards. Arshon Spaulding made five catches for 62 yards for the Tigers.

"I felt pretty comfortable," Dever said. "At the beginning, I was pretty shaky. I was just getting warmed up. But I got in my rhythm and I felt like the guys were working with me."

With 1:12 left in the third quarter, Morgan State's Brown ran up the middle for a 4-yard touchdown. Raya's kick was blocked by SSU's Raheim Davis and the Bears settled for a 33-17 advantage.

Morgan State made it 35-17 with 9:41 left in the game when defensive back Darius Johnson tackled SSU's Spaulding in the end zone for a safety and a 1-yard loss. The Bears' Raya attempted a 37-yard field goal that missed wide left with 4:33 to play.

SSU cut it to 35-24 when Dever found sophomore wide receiver Kendarius Dukes for a 15-yard touchdown with 2:23 left remaining. The score capped a seven-play, 80-yard drive that was the Tigers' longest of the game.

"The last drive, I think our tempo was great," Dever said. "We were moving the ball. We were getting set quick. We were catching them off guard."
Morgan State took over with 2:23 to play and used six plays to end the game.

The Bears' Brown finished with a game-high 113 yard and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Andrews, a graduate student, was 10-of-20 passing for 130 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Harris, a freshman, finished 4-of-5 passing for 28 yards and a touchdown. Morgan State's Martin made five catches for a game-high 84 yards.

Defensively, SSU linebacker Ellison Burns played the best game of his collegiate career. The junior from Benedictine Military School made seven solo tackles and broke up a pass. SSU defensive back David Crowley, also a junior, registered seven tackles (four solo).

After the game, SSU's Smith, still wearing his helmet, said this was a special season. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound senior from Prince Georges County, Md., was recruited to SSU out of Lackey High School.

"Honestly, man, it's bigger than the record," Smith said. "The program is really changing before my eyes. I'm a reason why it's changing. That alone makes me happy. All the wins and losses, yeah, you know the season didn't go the way we all planned but you've just got to look at the positives of the whole situation. That comes down to the program. The program is actually changing. It's come a long way since my freshman year. That's something to be proud of."



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