BOWIE – Faced with an early deficit, the Bowie State University football team quickly found its rhythm, getting career performances from quarterback Ja’rome Johnson and defensive back Demetri Morsell as the Bulldogs clobbered their Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Northern Division rival Virginia Union, 52-17, at Bulldogs Stadium on Oct. 26.

Johnson, who has settled into his role as a starter and offensive leader, finished the afternoon with a career-high 395 yards passing for five touchdowns on 23 of 28 completions (82 percent).

“Ja’rome has now settled down in the system and he’s taking the bull by the horns and running with it,” Bowie State Coach Damon Wilson said of Johnson, who was selected as one of the CIAA Players of the Week.

Morsell, a 5-foot-11 sophomore who plays a crucial role on defense for the Bulldogs, recorded two interceptions – one of which was returned for a 92-yard touchdown – to help Bowie State (8-0, 5-0 CIAA) seal the five-touchdown win.

“I think the guys played well in all three phases. Offensively, the guys got after it in the run game and the pass game and took advantage of the things they were given so I’m excited about the win,” Wilson said following the victory.

After the Bulldogs forced a Virginia Union three-and-out on the opening drive of the game, they took over at their 8-yard line. Johnson received the snap and began to run but was taken down behind the yard of scrimmage by Tremayne Sweat. On Johnson’s way down, allowing defensive tackle Xzavier Hines to scoop the ball up and return it for a Panthers’ touchdown with less than two minutes into the contest.

Bowie State quickly answered with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Montez Clay to tie it with 8:03 left in the first. Next, Virginia Union quarterback Khalid Morris hooked up with Jaiden Reavis for a 42-yard play that put the Panthers in scoring position again; Kicker Jefferson Souza made a field goal from 19 yards out to put the Panthers back up, 10-7.

To close the first quarter, Johnson launched an 80-yard pass to wide receiver Darius Bowman, giving Bowie State its first lead of the afternoon. From that point, the Bulldogs never trailed, unleashing an offensive attack that eventually put the game out of reach for the Panthers.

Toward the end of the first quarter, both teams were charged with unsportsmanlike conduct penalties following a scuffle that happened after a Bowie State kickoff. Tensions between the two CIAA Northern Division heavyweights continued throughout the game.

Johnson tossed another touchdown to Clay midway through the second on a 35-yarder that made the score 21-10. The Bulldogs’ defense did its job throughout the quarter, limiting Virginia Union from advancing to the red zone. However, the Panthers scored their last touchdown when Morris hurled a 75-yard pass to Charles Hall IV that brought the score to 21-17. The Bulldogs responded as DuShon David caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to extend the lead to 28-17 at halftime.

David and Clay combined for 126 yards receiving, finished with four receptions apiece and scored two touchdowns apiece. Bowman caught two passes for 95 yards and a touchdown.

In the second half, Bowie State played shut-down defense, allowing only 107 yards of offense and no scoring. The Bulldogs added two touchdowns in the third: Calil Wilkens scored on a nine-yard rush, Johnson and David connected again for a 17-yard score and Gene Carson kicked a 24-yard field goal to give Bowie a comfortable 28-point lead.

Morsell also came alive in the second half, intercepting a Morris pass at the bottom of the third quarter and returning it into Virginia Union territory. He also had the highlight of the day when he opened the fourth quarter with a 92-yard interception return to extend Bowie State’s lead to 52-17.

“Demetri missed some plays early in the game but he kept his head in the game and he responded,” Wilson said. “So I was glad to see him overcome that as a sophomore, he did a good job responding and executing assignments,”

“I feel like I played bad in the first half,” said Morsell, a Dr. Henry Wise Jr. High School graduate and Upper Marlboro native. “But after halftime, I talked to Coach, he went over everything I did wrong and we fixed it coming out. He told me I gotta get my head in the game.”

Discipline and focus were imperative down the stretch in the midst of flaring tensions throughout the afternoon, Morsell added.

Morris finished 13 for 31 with 217 yards and a touchdown. The 6-foot-2 junior also threw two interceptions as the Panthers earned their first conference loss of the season.

“We didn’t play well enough to win today. I think they outplayed us and it showed on the scoreboard,” Virginia Union Head Coach Alvin Parker said. “We just can’t make some of the mistakes that we made today and expect to win. They (Bowie) did a good job of having their guys ready and they won.”

Bowie State will conclude its regular-season home schedule against Lincoln on Nov. 2 at 1 p.m. The Panthers will host Elizabeth City State in hopes of getting back on track also on Nov. 2. at 1 p.m.

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