The 2019 Black College Sports Network (BCSN) Under-D1 Black College Football National Champions are the Bowie State Bulldogs. The Bulldogs finished the season with an 11-1, 7-0 record, an unbeaten regular season and CIAA Football Championship for the second consecutive year.
Led by Coach Damon Wilson, who completed his 11th season at his alma mater (’98), Bowie State ended the season ranked 18th in the national AFCA Coaches poll after a disappointing home loss in the first-round of the D-II playoffs to Carson-Newman, 17-9. Entering the 2020 season, Bowie State will have a 16-game regular season winning streak and 13-game conference winning streak.
The Bulldogs were the preseason favorites to win the CIAA despite losing national black college player of the year, quarterback Amir Hall. Hall broke and set Bowie State and conference passing records as he graduated in 2018. Determining who would be the next man up to lead this offense was one of the biggest storylines heading into the season.
The Next Man Up
Two transfer quarterbacks would give given the keys to Coach Wilson’s offense and the least talked about one during the preseason became the player that set the conference on fire. Ja’rome Johnson, 6-1 170 junior from Washington D.C., took over the primary signal-calling duties early in the season following an injury to season opening starter, Gaston Cooper, a R-Jr from Silver Springs, MD.
Johnson rushed 18 times for 172 yards and a touchdown, along with a passing touchdown on seven completions for 58 yards in the season opener against American International. It wasn’t until he became the full-time starter that conference opponents realized what they had to deal with. In the 4th game of the season against St. Aug, Johnson was 19 of 29 for 307 with 4 TDs and 1 INT. And when he wasn’t having a good passing game like that he did his damage on the ground. He rushed for 122 yards on 16 carries (1 TD) against Winston-Salem State, and 193 yards on 11 carries with 3 TDs rushing and 3 TDs passing against Chowan.
In a matchup featuring the No.1 and No.2 BCSN-ranked teams that would decide the CIAA Northern Division, Johnson and the Bulldogs defeated Virginia Union 52-17. Bowie State dominated on both sides of the ball in this game. Johnson had a season best performance as he was 23-28 for 395 yards with 5 TDs.
Johnson earned CIAA All-Conference honors as the Offensive Player of the Year. He finished the season 131 of 225 for 1,860 yards, 22 TDs and 9 INTs, with an efficiency rating of 151.9, and rushed for a team-high 996 net yards and 12 TDs on 133 attempts. The Bowie State offense averaged 42.5 points per game at the end of the regular season.
Stingy Bulldogs Defense
As prolific as the offense was in the post-Amir Hall era, the defense was stingy and downright nasty to deal with this season. Bowie allowed 15.6 points per game, which was 7th best in the nation and best in black college football. Other top 10 rankings nationally by the defense were:
- 3rd toughest 3rd-down conversion percentage in the nation (.265)
- 5th hardest team to score against in the red zone (.621 avg on 29 opponent attempts)
- 2nd most passes intercepted in the nation (25)
- 6th most sacks (41) and sacks per game (3.42)
- 2nd most tackles for loss per game (10.3)
- 4th most total tackles for loss (124.0)
- 5th most turnovers gained (35)
Individually, sophomore defensive back Demetri Morsell, 5-11 170 from Upper Marlboro, MD, was selected as the CIAA Defensive Player of the Year. Morsell had a league and nation leading nine interceptions, which he returned for 3 scores, also tops in the nation.
While Morsell led a secondary that had the second-most interceptions in Division-II, redshirt-sophomore defensive lineman Joshua Pryor, 6-4 280 from Baltimore, MD, led the front seven and wrecked havoc in the backfield for opposing teams.
Pryor was selected as the 2019 BCSN Defensive Player of the Year in large part to his nation-leading 25.5 tackles-for-loss on 70 tackles (35 solo). He recorded 12.5 sacks for 104 yards (best in nation), averaging 1.04 sacks per game (7th best in nation), along with eight QBH, one pass breakup and one block.
The Bulldogs had five players selected to the All-CIAA First Team (Johnson, Morsell, Pryor, TE DuShon David and P Kenny Amaya), five players selected to the All-CIAA Second Team (OL John Robinson and Christopher Wissmann, DL James Dumas, DB Tevin Singleton and PK Gene Carson), four players on the All-CIAA Rookie Team (Victor Olayinka, Jordan Carter, Raymond Boone and Jonathan Ross), the CIAA offensive, defensive and defensive rookie of the years (Johnson, Morsell and Ross), and Coach Wilson was awarded the CIAA coach of the year.
Morsell was also named to 2019 AFCA Division II Coaches’ All-American – First Team Defense.
The BCSN does not do preseason polls. But if we did, it would be hard to imagine someone other than Bowie State starting the 2020 season anywhere other than where they ended 2019, as No.1.