Upon his team’s return to campus after one of its more modest performances this fall, Bowie State offensive coordinator Moses Ware was greeted with a concerned question: “What happened?”
“Nothing happened,” he replied. “We just had 40 points in that game.”
When being held to 40 points is a minor crisis, you might have an effective offense. And when you can score 77 points in your season finale — and still come up nine points short of the previous week’s total — “effective” probably doesn’t do this operation justice. Highly combustible? Fairly devastating? Slightly ridiculous?
“This is not a realistic year,” said Coach Damon Wilson, whose Bulldogs will host an NCAA playoff game for the first time Saturday afternoon. “I don’t want to say once in a lifetime. But 80 points? Seventy points?”
The numbers don’t compute. They’re outlandish, absurd, something out of a basketball score book. Before this fall, the Bulldogs had scored as many as 64 points twice in school history. Then they did it in half of their next 10 games.
Their average of 56.4 points is more than a touchdown better than any other Division II program — and higher than every NCAA team other than Division III powerhouse Mount Union. The 9-1 Bulldogs averaged more than 582 yards, ahead of every NCAA team besides Oklahoma. They hit a cool 86 points on homecoming, breaking a 42-year-old school record. They scored 162 points this season in the first quarter alone; their opponents have scored 192 in all quarters combined.
“Our first home game, I looked at the scoreboard, and I said, ‘Man, we have 35 first-quarter points,’ ” said the team’s quarterback, Amir Hall, who leads Division II with 39 passing touchdowns despite spending most fourth quarters on the sideline. “Then after that game, I just expected it.”
Look at the offense, and you’ll see Wilson’s blueprint for building the program. It’s filled with players who were overlooked in high school, who were a bit too small or too short or too slow for the Division I recruiters. With players who left the area for school, but then didn’t like their choice, or decided they needed to be closer to home. With players who grew up 10 or 15 miles from Bowie State’s campus, and who already knew most of their teammates before they arrived at Jericho Park Road.
There’s the starting offensive line, including four redshirt seniors who have been inseparable for five years. All four went to high school in Prince George’s County; they were joined this season by left tackle Jalen Neal, a transfer from Purdue whose sister is a Bowie State student. They call themselves “The Bang Five,” and one of them was named the conference’s offensive lineman of the week eight out of 10 times.
“Without hesitation, that’s what it’s all about,” Wilson said of his line. “You’re talking about four guys that’ve been playing together for five years, that work out together during the summer, that stay over at each others’ houses during winter break, whose parents all know each other.”
There’s running back Robert Chesson, The Post’s All-Met offensive player of the year as a senior at Old Mill, who set a Maryland record with 49 touchdowns that season. He didn’t have the grades to play Division I ball, so he headed to West Virginia Wesleyan before transferring to Bowie State to be near his son. He is second in Division II in rushing touchdowns and capped his season with a video-game finale: 304 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
“I’ve always thought Bowie State was a gold mine,” said DaLawn Parrish, the coach of Wise, The Post’s top-ranked local high school team. Wilson “grinds, and he finds these kids. Kids who didn’t work out that he recruited, he gets them to come back to Bowie State. The kid who might not have been tall enough or might not have been big enough, he makes a killing off those kids.”
Then there’s Hall, the quarterback, who is lighting the school’s record book on fire and guzzling the ashes. He already has Bowie’s five highest single-game passing performances. He threw for six touchdowns three times this season (no one had ever done that in school history). He has more than twice as many completions and yards than any other Bulldogs quarterback, and he still has a year of eligibility left. This for a player who was lightly recruited out of Riverdale Baptist.
“He’s a DI talent; he might not have been a DI talent coming out of high school, but they developed that talent there,” said Shaw Coach Adrian Jones, who saw Hall throw for 420 yards and six touchdowns. “When you’ve got a good quarterback like that, he makes everybody good.”
And Hall, like so many of his teammates, is a local; he grew up in Bowie, about 10 minutes from campus. Indeed, of the 80 players on the team’s roster for Saturday’s game, 77 are from either Maryland or the District. Thirty-six are from Prince George’s County.
“That’s the beauty about it; pretty much all the talent is from home,” said center Diontae Jordan, who grew up in Bladensburg.
“We call it the Maryland all-star team,” Hall said.
“Ninety percent of the guys can get on the MARC train,” said Ware, the offensive coordinator. “Those are our guys. We’ve got to build a program that’s attractive to our guys staying home.”
The Maryland flavor extends to the coaching staff, too. Six members of the staff, including Wilson, have degrees from Bowie State. The offensive and defensive coordinators, running backs coach, tight ends coach and defensive line coach all went to local high schools. Ware spent time coaching at Coolidge and Ballou in the District. At least three position coaches had stints working at Prince George’s County high schools. Longtime NFL safety Madieu Williams, another Prince George’s product, addressed the team during preseason camp, and is expected at Saturday’s game. The whole program feels like an extension of the county’s high school circuit.
“In a nutshell, it is,” Wilson said. “You have every major DI school in the country coming into our backyard. But there’s talent here for everyone.”
He has found enough to build a Division II team that’s ranked 14th in the country, with a chance to earn its first-ever playoff win Saturday against Delta State. And while he isn’t expecting to average 56 points a game forever, Wilson wants to use this season as a springboard.
Division II teams can fund up to 36 full scholarships, but Bowie State doesn’t have the funds for even half that number and currently divides 10 and a half scholarships among its roster. (“I can only imagine where we would be nationally if we had the full allotment,” Wilson said.) He’s trying to raise money to increase the on-campus stadium’s capacity (it’s about 5,000 seats) and to upgrade the press box, which is at least 20 years old.
The Bulldogs already host prep all-star games, but creating a venue that could host high school playoff games or state championship games might be another recruiting coup. And when you’re hosting NCAA playoff games (and putting 86 points on scoreboards), you start luring local TV cameras that don’t typically cover Bowie State practices.
Of course, there probably won’t be too many 86-point games in the playoffs, when the competition level cranks up considerably. But when you flip through this year’s stats — Bowie State has lost the time-of-possession battle, while leading the country in yards and points — it’s hard not to rub your eyes a few times.
“I understand,” Hall, the quarterback, said sympathetically. “Those numbers seem so far-fetched.”
“I can’t explain it,” Ware said.
“And we’re still not hitting on all cylinders,” Wilson insisted. “I can only imagine, if we really played a full complete game, what could possibly happen.”