|Photo by Philip McCullom|
By ADD SEYMOUR JR.
Say what you will about Morehouse head football coach Rich Freeman, but realistic optimist would have to be tops on your list.
A year after a 3-7 football season where injuries to his most of his best players shot a hole in a promising year for Morehouse football, Freeman brings his team to Washington, D.C. where they will face Howard in the 3rd Annual AT&T Nations Football Classic on Saturday. Howard has won the first two games in this new series between the two schools (though only by a total of four points) and the Bison are hungry for a win after Eastern Michigan came from behind to defeat Howard 24-22 last week.
Add to that huge losses on defense from last season's Morehouse team and all of that makes today's Classic, at RFK Stadium, a daunting task for the Division II Maroon Tigers against the FCS (formerly Division I-AA) Bison.
"Last season was awful for us. We came in highly ranked...only to be decimated by injuries," Freeman said during the AT&T Nations Football Classic Welcome Dinner for the two teams. "We just want to make it through the season and just put a team on the field. Of course our ultimate goal every year is to play fast, hard and smart. We've got a talented group of young guys and I'm really excited about finding out about this team. I kind of had the the pulse of the four teams prior and I'm very up front and honest, and my players know this, and I'm trying to find the pulse of this football team. What better test than to go up against a very good football team at Howard University."
Offensively, the Maroon Tigers look solid as running back Shelton Hamilton returns from a season-ending knee injury last season. Hamilton ably stepped into the limelight last year when star runner David Carter was hampered by hamstring issues. Freeman expects Hamilton to have a break out season, though he will be pushed by two other running Tigers. The quarterbacks are new, but Freeman is confident in both Joshua Harris and Jordan Tarver. Devon Mann returns to lead the receiving corps. The problem for the Maroon Tigers will be on defense where they lost their entire starting linebacking group to graduation.
That's important as Howard quarterback Greg McGhee is coming off a big week against Eastern Michigan last weekend. He rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown while passing for 182 yards and another touchdown (and an interception). Jonathan Booker was on the receiving end of six of those passes for 76 yards and a touchdown.
"Our kids played hard," said Howard interim coach Ray Petty. We didnt have the game one mistakes that a lot of times you run into. They executed well and it was close. But close doesn't count. But we're going to go try to finish it up this week."
Last season, Morehouse was ahead by six points heading into the final two minutes of the game. The Bison drove down the field against the Maroon Tigers and squeaked ahead 24-23 after an Aquanius Freeman's 2-yard touchdown run. But on the following possession, Mann took a pass 72 yards for a touchdown with 1:54 left. The Tigers missed the two-point conversion and led 29-24. But aided by a controversial penalty call, Howard quickly drove down field and went up 30-29 on a 13-yard David Wilson touchdown pass to Justin Cunningham.
"[Today's game] is going to be a great football game," Petty said. "Two years in a row now it's gone down basically to the last play of the game. We've been on the fortunate side to be able to win the game. Soembody is going to win, somebody is going to lose. But their team is going to play hard every year. A couple of tiems we got out to a lead on them and thought we put them away and they just kept fighting and come back. You'll probably see the same kind of game this year."
Freeman expects the same.
"We do have some good football players," he said. "I say that all the time. The SIAC, the CIAA, Division II football as a whole, is well respected for the talent that we have. So I'm confident that we have guys that can get it done. I'm just happy to that those young guys played [last season] so they can take some of that talent they have, mix experience with it and see what happens, put it oven and bake the cake."
Other HBCU football match-ups today:
Southwestern Athletic Conference
- Mississippi Valley State hosts Delta State
- Alcorn State visits Mississippi State from the SEC
- Alabma State is at Jackson State
- Grambling State goes to Louisiana-Monroe
- Prairie View A&M plays at Texas State
- Tuskegee visits state rival Alabama A&M in the 4th Annual Louis Crews Classic/
- Southern goes to Northwestern State
- Arkansas-Pine Bluff is at McNeese State
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
- South Carolina State goes up against Clemson of the ACC
- Robert Morris hosts Morgan State
- Norfolk State visits Rutgers
- St. Augustine is at North Carolina Central
- Florida A&M hosts Tennessee State
- Delaware State plays rival Delaware
- Virginia Union goes to Bethune-Cookman
- Hampton plays at William & Mary
- Savannah State visits Troy
- North Carolina A&T heads to Appalachian State
Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
- Lane visits Virginia University of Lynchburg
- Benedict goes to Central State
- Valdosta State plays Fort Valley State
- Stillman hosts Concordia
- Albany State opens at North Greenville
- Clark Atlanta is at West Alabama
Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
- UNC Pembroke defeated Winston Salem State 25-21 Thursday night
- Chowan is at UNC-Charlotte
- Shaw hosts Charleston
- Bowie State is at St. Anselm
- Lincoln is at Cheyney
- Johnson C. Smith takes on Livingstone in the Commemorative Classic
- Newberry is at Elizabeth City State
- Virginia State visits Fayetteville State