SALEM, Va. – Regardless of the questions that loomed after the departure of former quarterback Amir Hall, Head Coach Damon Wilson said he knew his Bowie State University football team would have a feasible chance to repeat as conference champs before the season even began.
The Bulldogs used a prolific offense and, more notably, a staggering defense all season to become one of the most dynamic programs in Division II football. After yet another resilient outing, the Bulldogs continue to take the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) by storm after winning its second consecutive conference title game, 23-7, over Fayetteville State on Nov. 16 at Salem Stadium in Virginia.
“I knew we had a chance in camp,” Wilson said. “I knew we were in good shape offensively, but defensively once I saw the guys flying around and learning the system, I knew we had a chance to be successful then. A lot of folks asked me questions all year, ‘what are we gonna do without Amir?’ and our philosophy has always been the next man up.”
Quarterback Ja’rome Johnson rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, running back Adam Gillis Jr. added another rushing touchdown and defensive back Demetri Morsell’s 33-yard fumble return helped the Bulldogs (11-0, 7-0 CIAA) claim the conference crown over the Broncos for the second straight year.
“My guys have been fighting all year long – a very resilient group offensively, defensively and special teams. They handled some tough, adverse situations today,” said Wilson. “Coach (Richard) Hayes and those (Fayetteville State) guys came out and played a very good football game today, and we were fortunate to come out with the win.”
Bowie State made sure it got ahead early on Fayetteville State, a team known for its ground attack. CIAA Defensive Player of the Year Demetri Morsell put the Bulldogs on the board within the first minute of the game after scoring on a fumble return, and with just under nine minutes to go in the first Gillis rushed 16 yards for another score to put the Bulldogs up 14-0.
Bowie State maintained the two-touchdown lead until late in the third when Fayetteville State’s Donshel Jetton scored on a 4-yard run to reduce the Broncos’ deficit to seven points.
A 36-yard pass from Johnson to Montez Clay, along with a 13-yard run by Calil Wilkins, put Bowie in scoring position near the halfway mark of the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-4, Gene Carson kicked a 29-yard field goal to give his team the 17-7 advantage.
With a chance to cut deeper into the deficit, Fayetteville State got the ball back and worked its way to Bowie State’s 25-yard line until a game-changing play happened. Broncos quarterback Richard Latimer threw an interception to defensive back Juantez McRae that was returned back into Fayetteville State territory with 3:23 remaining.
The Bulldogs were assessed an unsportsmanlike penalty that pushed them back 15 yards, but that did not stop them from capitalizing off the forced turnover. On the next play, Johnson scampered 29 yards for the touchdown to virtually seal the win for BSU.
“I think we were pressing early offensively,” added Wilson, who was recently named CIAA Coach of the Year. “Once we started taking advantage of the things they were giving us, and calmed down and played Bowie football, I think we did a decent job.”
Johnson, CIAA’s Offensive Player of the Year, was 9 of 21 for 90 yards passing and an interception. He attributed much of his success to Gaston Cooper, a junior quarterback who once held his starting spot.
“Just staying behind Gaston and learning the offense,” Johnson said of what helped his growth throughout the season. “He helped me throughout the whole season. When he was starting, we’d help each other. So he played a big part in that.”
Fayetteville State finishes its season at 8-3. The Bulldogs will host Carson-Newman (Tenn.) at Bulldog Stadium on Nov. 23 at 1 p.m. in the opening round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.