In a final tune-up before the Battle of the Bay, Hampton needed a little time to shake off a Division II opponent.
“They threw everything at us,” Pirates coach Robert Prunty said of Tuskegee University. “They blitzed like 80% of the time, so it was good for our quarterbacks to see all that.”
But a narrow 20-yard gap between the teams at halftime morphed into a 227-yard gulf by the final whistle as Hampton beat Tuskegee 42-10 Saturday night at Armstrong Stadium.
“A game like this could be a trap game,” Prunty said, “especially when you’re playing a Division II program because if you lose, it’s like, man. You gotta be careful with these trap games, and our guys understood that all week.”
The Pirates (2-0) shook off the stingy Tuskegee group with a strong second half that began with a commitment to the run. Eight of nine plays on the drive to start the second half were runs, capped by Tymere Robinson’s 2-yard rush.
Elijah Burris showcased a ferocious style of running, gaining 104 yards on 14 carries.
“We need to give him the ball more,” Prunty said. “We gotta get the ball in our playmakers’ hands.”
Malcolm Mays, who won a three-way quarterback battle in camp, made his second start and shook off an inconsistent first half and dropped a 48-yard dime to Jadakis Bonds on his final pass of the night.
“Whether things are up or down,” Mays said, “you gotta keep an even-keeled head, and as long as I do that, good things will continue to happen.”
Backup QBs Chris Zellous, who scored on a 26-yard rushing TD, and Sofian Massoud also got snaps in the fourth quarter.
“With three quarterbacks, it’s gonna be this way again Monday,” Prunty said. “Somebody gotta separate. We just ain’t had nobody separate. Chris and Sofian haven’t played a lot neither.”
Prunty was pleased with Mays’ performance but still hoped to see more consistency. And he’s left the QB decision to offensive coordinator Zack Patterson.
“Zack has a tough decision to make and that’s why I hired him as offensive coordinator,” Prunty said. “He’s gotta make that decision ‘cause I told him it’s in his hands.”
For Bonds, who had five catches for 122 yards and two scores, it doesn’t matter who takes the field.
“I trust all of them quarterbacks,” Bonds said.
With Mays expressing that the “quarterback room is tight as can be,” and linebacker KeShaun Moore noting that this year’s team is as close as ever, there are no fissures.
“Everyone wanting everyone to do good,” Moore said, “kind of just alleviates all the outside noise that other people might think might be in the locker room.”
Hampton’s defense set up its offense well in the first half. The Pirates picked off Tuskegee QB Ryan Nettles three times, leading to two touchdowns. Another score came following a 14-yard punt.
Those turnovers proved crucial as Hampton’s offense sputtered when not given a short field — all three scoring drives began at the Tuskegee 30 or in and lasted three or fewer plays.
Mays threw two first-half interceptions: one an inexplicable throw straight at a defender and the second a lofty ball to the pylon that was tipped and caught by the sprinting safety.
On the flip side, Mays correctly chose to take a pitch option himself for a 7-yard touchdown run and threw a beautiful 29-yard TD to Bonds, one of the Colonial Athletic Association’s top receivers.
Tuskegee found a rhythm when Bryson Williams stepped in for the struggling Nettles. Williams engineered a 12-play, 75-yard drive in a hurry-up, quick-pass offense that made quick work of Hampton’s maligned passing defense.
The defense settled in, only allowing a field goal the rest of the way.
“I think we’re strong everywhere,” said Moore, a former Nansemond-Suffolk standout.
Hampton will visit Norfolk State in the Battle of the Bay at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s definitely huge,” Moore said. “Being from the 757, everyone talks about it. We had a crazy game last year that we ended up being short on, so that’s been in everyone’s minds, so definitely looking to go out, handle business and have bragging rights for another year.”
Ray Nimmo, email@example.com