It was far from a thing of beauty, but it gave Donovan Rose one more victory than last season and sent Hampton's senior class out with a win.
The Pirates overcame 197 yards in penalties to pull away from Morgan State in the second half for a 42-18 win that gave them a 7-4 overall record and a 5-3 mark in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Rose, in his third season as HU's head coach after 18 years as an assistant, went 5-6 and 6-5 in the previous two years.
"I went to practice this week and worked hard," said senior wide receiver Dyrri McCain, who was used primarily as a running back on Saturday to the tune of 66 yards and a 36-yard touchdown. "I knew it was my last week. I was just thinking, 'This is my last time to work hard for Hampton.' The O-line made their blocks, the receivers made their blocks, and I was just determined."
Fellow senior wideout Isiah Thomas had a game-high 95 yards on seven catches and two touchdowns, including a 25-yard catch to cap a six-play, 63-yard drive to open the third quarter and give Hampton some critical breathing room after a tight, mistake-filled first half.
The Pirates committed 16 penalties for 174 yards in the first two quarters and led just 7-3 at halftime. Freshman quarterback Travis Champion replaced fellow freshman Brad Hudson, 6-of-13 for 59 yards and a TD in two quarters, in the second half, and promptly directed a scoring drive on HU's first series.
"The quick score just flipped the momentum on our team," said Champion, who started two games in place of injured senior David Legree before being supplanted by Hudson last week. "Everyone showed confidence in me and just rallied around me. Once we had the momentum, there was no stopping us."
Despite the ugly first half — which included the ejection of redshirt freshman lineman Norman Booker for spitting at a Morgan State player — Rose delivered an upbeat halftime speak.
"I told the guys, 'This is who we've been all year,' " Rose said. "I told them the penalties were outrageous, and I said, 'You're allowing these guys to be in the game. Just settle down. We're going to get the ball first, we're going to go down and we're going to score,' and that's exactly what we did. We kind of had that calmness in us to play through that, so I wasn't concerned at all. We've been a second-half team this whole year."
Champion hit Javaris Brown for a 33-yard score and a 21-3 lead with 1:07 to play in the third quarter. The Bears (5-6, 4-4) got within 21-11 early in the fourth before McCain answered with his tackle-shedding run around the right side.
Morgan State got within 10 once more before Champion hooked up with senior wideout P.J. Hicks, a product of Hampton High, for a commanding 35-18 lead, and sophomore tailback Antwon Chisholm tacked on a late 6-yard run for the final score.
HU's defense, led by 24 tackles from sophomore linebacker DeVonte Hawkins (one short of the program single-game record), held the Bears to 305 yards, a 4-of-17 conversion rate on third down and sacked Morgan State quarterback Seth Higgins four times.
HU, paced by Champion's 13-of-17, 192-yard performance, gained 405 yards.
"We stuck to the game plan," Hawkins said. "We just kept at. Our No. 1 goal this week was really to stop the run and make the quarterback make plays."
The Pirates, who came into the game ranked last among 120 FCS teams with 106.9 penalty yards on 12.8 flags per game, came within 24 yards of the school's single-game record for penalties (221, set in 1976 against St. Paul's). HU finished the season with 1,266 penalty yards, 90 shy of the program season record of 1,356 (set in 1977).