They didn't get discouraged. They didn't quit. They didn't get an early start on winter plans. As a result, Hampton earned its first victory against its biggest rival.
In a peculiar season that showed signs of unraveling, the Pirates put together their year's most complete effort and controlled Norfolk State 28-14 Saturday at Armstrong Stadium in the 50th Battle of the Bay.
"The guys just kind of let go and played with some energy," HU coach Donovan Rose said. "Guys just had fun. We had a great week of practice. We knew what we had to do. After watching film and evaluating ourselves, they decided that, OK, we're going to start listening and do what's asked of us."
The effort began on defense, where the Pirates held Norfolk State to 54 yards rushing, 251 yards of offense and intercepted Norfolk State quarterback Jake Basmagian four times.
"Everybody did their job," Pirates linebacker Lyndell Gibson said. "They dominated the person in front of them. The D-line did their job, the linebackers did their job, the DBs held the back end. We just dominated the person in front of us."
Gibson intercepted Basmagian twice on tipped balls, and running mate Delbert Tyler returned an interception 10 yards for a second-quarter touchdown that gave the Pirates a 21-0 lead.
Gibson's first pick came immediately after HU quarterback Travis Champion fumbled to give Norfolk State the ball at the Pirates' 13. His second came midway through the fourth quarter, and his 49-yard return set up HU at the Norfolk State 17, which led to the Pirates' final touchdown.
"Just swarming to the ball, running to the ball as a team," Tyler said. "Playing as a team. Everybody being on the same page. The last two weeks we've been practicing hard, getting ready for this game. The defense has been flying around practice all day. That's what our coaches have been preaching these last two weeks. We've been getting picks and stops in practice."
Coming off of its second bye week, Hampton (1-4, 1-2 MEAC) entered the game near the bottom of the MEAC in scoring defense (42 ppg) and total defense (426.8 ypg). But the Pirates allowed only one running play longer than 7 yards — that a bootleg by Basmagian — and one pass play of more than 20 yards.
"Everybody kept high spirits and stayed with each other, like brothers," Gibson said. "We just came out and worked all week, even in the bye week. Nobody quit, nobody fell off, nobody said I'm tired, nobody said none of that. We just put our minds to it and said, we can do this, even though we're 0-4."
On the other side of the ledger, the Pirates' 214 total yards and 109 yards passing were the lowest since the season opener at Tennessee Tech, when they debuted their version of the Air Raid offense brought in by new coordinator Earnest Wilson.
But Hampton set the tone by scoring on the game's opening possession, and Jeremiah Schwartz (29 carries, 116 yards, 2 TDs) ran effectively as the Pirates often controlled the line of scrimmage. Champion (11-for-20, 107 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception) was unspectacular statistically, but managed the game well.
"Air Raid is just a name," Schwartz said. "Really, it's a balanced attack. 'Champ' makes a lot of good throws, and we put a lot of trust in him to check the plays and get us in the right position. Today, we did a little more on the ground, but he made some big throws and he ran the ball tough. It was a team effort."
Schwartz scored Hampton's first and last touchdowns. Champion connected with Javaris Brown for a 20-yard touchdown pass after a Norfolk State muffed punt gave the Pirates the ball at the Spartans' 36.
Norfolk State (2-5, 0-4 MEAC) muffed three kicks — two punts and a kickoff — in addition to the four interceptions, as the Spartans continue to devise creative ways to lose.
The defending MEAC champs and preseason favorites lost to Howard on a missed extra point in overtime. They allowed only one offensive touchdown to South Carolina State, but came up empty on offense in a 14-0 loss. They had what appeared to be the game-clinching touchdown against Delaware State negated because of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in a 20-17 loss.
"I think we're pressing too much to play well," Spartans coach Pete Adrian said.
The Pirates, meanwhile, hung together despite the fact that they aren't eligible for either the MEAC title or the playoffs due to NCAA-imposed academic penalties. Their reward is some much-needed validation heading into a short preparation week in advance of a Thursday night game at N.C. Central.
"I told the guys, you know what, we're probably the best 0-4 team in the nation," Rose said. "Coulda', woulda', shoulda'. But we kept fighting and I think our guys' spirit never broke. It just feels good after a game to let them enjoy and live a college lifestyle for an evening because it's going to be short-lived. We've got to get ready for next week tomorrow."