Usually a victorious football team's locker room is an uproar, with happy players slapping and congratulating one another. However, there was no such carryings-on by the Howard University players following a lackluster 15-0 victory over the hapless Maryland-Eastern Shore in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opener for both teams yesterday at Howard Stadium.
"No. I wasn't pleased we didn't score more than 15 points, but UMES had little to do with that," said Doug Porter, who looked more like the losing coach. "I thought our defense was fine. We had a couple of players out and a couple more suffered minor injuries, but we were able to put in our young people and not lose much."
An anemic offense by the winless Hawks (0-2) made Bison defense look even stronger.
Tackle Thomas Spears, linebacker Larry Hamilton and the rest of the Bison defense destroyed the UMES running attack, limiting backs Carl Hardaway and Ralph Esquilin to 44 yards on 18 carries. UMES quarterbacks Wilson Melbourne and Greg Stephen got little blocking and were sacked six times for 56 yards.
"I don't know what was wrong. That's what we (coaches) are going to talk about now," said Eastern Shore coach Jarold Gray. "We just looked bad. We wanted to throw but we couldn't keep them out of (our backfield). Our offensive line didn't block."
From the opening minutes, UMES looked whipped. On every series in the first half, the Bison defense threw its opponent backward. The Hawks never had good field position, either, putting the ball in play at their 26, 26, 10, 34, 9, 25 and 19. They netted minus four yards the first half.
Howard got all the points it needed early in the first half. After a short punt, the Bison took over at the Hawks' 44. Six running plays moved the ball to the 15, at which point Ronald Wilson fired a touchdown strike to tight end Fitz Fowler in the corner of the end zone. Howard Ward booted the extra point and Howard led, 7-0, with just three minutes elapsed.
The rout that the partisan crowd of approximately 4,000 anticipated, did not materialize. For the previous four years, the Bison had averaged 39 points a game in beating the Hawks (42-6 in '76). But yesterday, Howard either lacked the killer instinct or was looking ahead to powerful South Carolina State next week in Orangeburg.
"We'll certainly have to cut down on our mistakes for next week's big game. This game was not a true picture of how good our team is," said Howard fullback James Breakfield, who finished with 97 yards on 22 carries. "I don't think we underestimated Maryland-Eastern Shore. They did a good job on us."
A tough front line, anchored by defensive end Ed Jackson(formerly of Gwynn Park High), held its own but, as Gray said, "They just had to play too long."
Howard applied pressure and eventually completed its scoring before halftime.
Spears recovered a fumble late in the first half at the Hawks' 33 and the Bison appeared headed for an easy score. But UMES stiffened and Ward's 16-yard field goal was blocked by Bruce Nicholas.
UMES put the ball in play at its nine. A running play gained nothing and then linebacker Hamilton brushed off the feeble block of a UMES tackle and sacked Milbourne in the end zone for a safety and a 9-0 Howard advantage.
Eastern Shore kicked off and quarterback Bryan Thomas, who took over for Ronal Wilson, directed the Bison 50 yards in 14 plays for their final score. Thomas mixed his plays well. Gary Madden, who was impressive for the second straight wee, cruised around the end for the final six yards. The kick failed and Howard led, 15-0, at intermission.
Porter substituted freely throughout the second half. "I felt we had control of the game and it was a good time to play our people," said Porter. "When you do not interchange players, you do lose centuity. But you have the young kids play to gain confidence in themselves.
UMES, which managed only 70 yards, had its only scoring opportunity late in the third period when a Thomas pass was tipped by UMES linebacker Joe Settles into the waiting arms of teammate Michael Anderson. The cornerback streaked 27 yards down the sideline before he was tackled by Thomas at the Howard 27.
Three plays later, however, UMES was faced with a fourth and 25 and punted.
"We weren't doing anything tricky. Just reading the plays and going in," said Spears, a 6-4, 275-pound junior. "If everybody does his assignment, the defense will work. It won't be this easy against South Carolina State."
Porter and most the people still around late in the final period were shaking their heads at a call that nullified a Bison touchdown. Howard had driven from its 16 to the UMES 16 On third and one, Charles Seay, the third Bison quarterback, hit Darryl Dennis with a perfect pass for an apparent six points. But the play was called back when the officials ruled Howard had 12 players on the fields.
"Our holder (Thomas) trotted on the field with the kicking tee and the referee counted him as the 12th man," said Porter. "We don't have ny plays where we have two quarterbacks in the game at the same time. He made the call and it was a mistake and he had to eat it."
The officials were not available for comment.
"It's too bad about the call. It was a good play and it way have given those players involved a little more confidence," said Porter.
Howard, now, 1-1, will need all its confidence plus a few lucky bounces next week against the defending MEAC champions. Yesterday's victory was not one to rely on for a spiritual uplift.