Florida A&M capitalized on a truckload of Howard mistakes and chalked up a 28-6 triumph in a non-conference football opener for both teams today at Giants Stadium.
The largest crowd, 35,097, to watch a Howard game saw Florida intercept six Bison passes. Two of the interceptions led to Rattler touchdowns.
Howard coach Doug Porter, who came into the game with high hopes, offered no excuses for his team's disappointing showing.
"Those interceptions and penalties (10 for 110 yards) kept us from sustaining anything," said a somber Porter, "They made the big plays on us. After we scored our touchdown, it looked like we were starting to come back. But they ran the kickoff back for a touchdown to pull the plug."
It was that dazzling 88-yard scamper by Melvin McFayden through the heart of the Bison kickoff team that took the sting out of Howard.
On the previous play, Ronald Wilson had hit Bison wingback Steve Wilson with a 15-yard scoring pass to cut Florida's advantage to 14-6 with 8:42 left in the game.
"That was it. They were through after that," A&M nose gurad Harrell Oliver said of the kick return. "We've been working on our kickoff. We almost broke one earlier. I guess we're just used to grass."
Florida A&M, nationally known for its stable of fleet-footed ball carriers and receivers, found the plush carpet at the Meadowlands complex to its liking.
After McFayden's scoring run, Daryle Tyson picked off a Wilson pass at his team's 45 and returned it just past midfield. A running play gained a yard before Robert James, the fourth of five quarterbacks used by A&M coach Rudy Hubbard, raced 48 yards on an option play for Florida's final score with 7:29 left.
Florida A&M rushed for 200 yards and passed for 164. Howard finished with 317 yards.
Whatever chance the Bisons had for victory went down the drain early in the first period. On A&M's opening series, Chris Douglass fumbled and Howard's Larry Hamilton recovered at the Rattler 18.
Wilson, who completed only eight of 21 passes for 162 yards and was intercepted four times, moved the Bison to the FAMU nine-yard line. But then his attempted pass was battled in the air by Thomas Lane and safety Reginald Carter made a diving interception in the end zone.
"That was the one that hurt us," said Porter. "We have a young club and momentum has a greater effect on a young team."
FAMU went to work early. Quarterback Al Chester, the Rattlers' offensive MVP in 1976, uncorked a long pass that split end Kenny Bogins hauled in between defenders Theodore Robinson and Huion Kemp at the Howard 35. Seven plays later Clarence Hawkins banged into the end zone for the six points. Herb Reinhard booted the point after and the Rattlers led, 7-0, with 3:42 left in the period.
Thomas Spears and James-Hunter keyed a Bison defense that managed to turn the ball over to the offfense three times in the first half. And each time it looked like something was brewing in the Bison arsenal, out came the officials' yellow flag.
Howard was called for too many players on the field once and drew enough holding calls to give Porter a restless night.
Two consecutive Bison drives stalled following holding calls and two others came to a sudden halt following interceptions by Warren Sadler.
Bryan Thomas, who relieved Wilson in the second period, moved the Bison to FAMU's 35 with time running out before intermission. But the sophomore fumbled one snap, was sacked by Oliver and Tim Chavers for and eight-yard loss and then was intercepted by Sadler inside the five as time ran out.
"We were lucky to get to the locker room still ahead," said Hubbard. "We made enough mistakes, but fortunately Howard didn't do anything with them. We made enough errors to lose."
A nine-minute drive by Howard to open the third period resulted in nothing but another punt and FAMU took over at its 20.
In between sending one of seven running backs up the middle for 28-yard gains. On the seventh play of the brief drive. Chester kept the ball for the final yard and the touchdown. Two consecutive Rattler penalties on the conversion attempt moved the ball back to the 30 but Reinhard's long kick just made it and FAMU had a 140 lead with 7:21 left in third period.
Neither Ronald Wilson nor Thomas enjoyed a banner day. Thomas managed five completions in 13 passes but also found the bright orange jerseys of a hungry FAMU defensive man twice.
Saddle, all over the field from his cornerback spot, said they hoped Howard would throw.
"We have a veteran secondary and we play well together," said the 6-foot, 171-pound junior. "We just played off the receivers and when they put it up, we went after it."
One plus for Howard was the pass receiving of Steve Wilson. The swift junior garnered four passes for 67 yards and came within a step of breaking two for touchdowns.
Another pleasant surprise was the running of freshman Gary Madden, who picked up 57 yards on 13 carries.
Steve Wilson's 22-yard return of a short FAMU punt led to the Bison's lone score.
Starting on theri 19, the Bison needed only three plays to get on the board. Ronald Wilson hit Steve Wilson (no relation) coming across the field and sprinter waved bye-bye at beaten FAMU defenders.
McFayden must have not like the Howard receiver's brashness because he immediately took the opening kick-off the distance. He did not wave bye-bye.
FAMU, now dancing on the sidelines from the music of their famous high-stepping 196-piece marching band, did everything they could to run out the clock in the waning moments.
Several running plays moved the bail upfield and Wyman Daniels, another reserve back, was stopped at the one on the last play of the game.
But at that point, no one seemed to care.