ORANGEBURG, S.C. ——In a game dominated by defense, Hampton's MEAC showdown with two-time defending South Carolina State on Saturday came down to special teams.
The host Bulldogs received a decisive 48-yard field goal from Scott Erickson with 7:23 remaining in the fourth quarter, while Hampton freshman Rodrigo Hernandez was 0-for-2, including a botched-snap mishap that doomed a potential game-tying bid from 37 yards out with 3:14 to go.
"To beat a team like S.C. State, you have to play well in all phases," said Hampton coach Donovan Rose.
"We showed up on defense, did some good things on special teams, but I don't understand what's going on with the offense. It came down to a couple of plays that we didn't make and a couple they did."
The Pirates attack simply had no answer for the relentless Bulldogs defense, which entered the game ranked No. 1 in FCS total defense, No. 4 in scoring defense. S.C. State was credited with six sacks and 11 tackles for loss in the game, limiting the Bucs to 144 total yards, just 13 on the ground.
"With all the talent we have, scoring just seven points in the last two games is something we have to fix," said Rose.
"We did such a great job on defense, but we can't expect them to win games for us by themselves. We had our chances, but we couldn't take advantage."
Hampton's defense gave the Bulldogs fits, especially defensive tackle Kendrick Ellis who rang up a game-high 11 tackles. The Pirates frustrated the SC State offense by coming up with four takeaways — fumble recoveries by Darius Johnson, Darius Collins and Ricardo Silver and an interception by Romero Pellim.
Collins' fumble recovery at the SC State 27-yard line early in the second half set up Hampton's only scoring drive of the game. Brandon Peguese knocked the ball free from Bulldogs quarterback Malcolm Long with a big-hit sack from the blind side.
It took 10 plays to cover the distance, but Hampton finally cashed in at 9:37 of the third quarter on a 2-yard run by quarterback David Legree.
S.C. State put together a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive in the first half. Chris Massey's 2-yard run came with 52 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
"This was tough, frustrating loss, but it was not the end of the season," Rose said. "We can't hang our heads because that is not us and we still have a lot of play for."
Indeed, the Pirates still have some level of control with their fate. Hampton squares off against front-running Bethune-Cookman at home when it returns to MEAC play on Nov. 6 after next week's game against Old Dominion.
"We have a chance to finish to finish in a tie for first place, so that has to be the focus," Rose said.
"We still have the opportunity to get some things done."