Howard University held off a determined fourth-quarter bid by Hampton Institute and escaped with a 20-14 decision in a nonconference football game before 4,500 yesterday at Howard Stadium.

The Bison (.4), leading 20-6 with 10 minutes left, had all begun celebrating before Pirate quarterback Russ Seaton rallied his troops.

The leading quarterback in the Central Intercollegiate athletic Association. Seaton engineered a brilliant 92-yard march to get his team bake into the contest. Howard helped the visitors with two penalties, one on a fourth down.

Seaton capped the 17-play march with a 25-yard touchdown pass to bullish tight end Larry Williams, who dragged Bison defenders to the end zone. Seaton's toss to Ed Pratt was good for the two-point conversion and Hampton trailed only 20-14 with 4:14 left.

Howard was unable to move on its next possession and punted. Hampton (5-3), took over on its' 30. A Seaton pass to Williams fell incomplete, then James Hunter sacked the signal-caller for an 11-yard loss back to the 19. A running play was stacked up at the line and, with a minute left, the Pirates punted.

The Pirates, hoping to tie the 65-year series at 32-32-1, almost got the break they gambled on.

Eddie Allen's high punt was short and appeared to hit Howard kick re-turner Jack King. Hampton recovered at midfield but the officials ruled the ball was not touched and Howard retained possession.

"Everyone thought the ball hit the returner but I definitely saw it hit the up man attempting to block," said Hampton coach Walter Lovett. "But we played 60 minutes and you shouldn't have to wait until the final minute to win. We didn't play well."

For three quarters, Howard's defense bottled up Seaton and, with the exception of several tackle-breaking runs by Carl Turner, shut down the Hampton rushing attack. The former All-Met from T.C. Williams did not play the first period, but picked up 111 yards on 16 carries, including a 30-yard touchdown romp with 2:06 left in the first to pull Hampton to within a point at 7-6.

Howard got fine efforts from quartetback Brian Thomas, with eight completions in 13 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns, and fullback James Breakfield, who picked up 101 yards on 12 tries.

Working behind a injury-depleted offensive line, Thomas directed 82-82-and 68-yard drives for the three Boston scores.

With 11:32 left in the second period, Thomas sprinted out to his right and lofted a high pass to wingback Steve Wilson at midfield. Wilson caught the ball in front of defender Don Rose, circled around him and dashed to the end zone. The play covered 71 yards and was the longest scoring play from scrimmage for Howard this season. Ward's kick was perfect and Howard led, 7-0.

After Turner's scoring gallop, Rose missed the conversion kick and Howard led at the half, 7-6.

The second half opened with three penalties on the kickoff before Thomas and Breakfield went to work. Three runs and a 12-yard pass from Thomas to Wilson keyed a 10-play march capped by Breakfield's four-yard bust up the middle for the score. But Ward missed the kick and Howard's lead was only 13-6.

"Hampton had big people and stacked up the middle on us so I had to roll out a lot," said Thomas. "The rollout puts a lot of pressure on the cornerback. I had a stiff arm all week and some of my passes hung. Steve (Wilson) and Fitz (Fowler) just made super catches."

Fowler's "super" reception covered 52 yards for a touchdown and all but doomed the dazed Pirates. Beginning at its 32. Howard got three runs from Breakfield for 16 yards before Thomas floated a pass toward Fowler. The ball was overthrown but the tight end grabbed it at the sideline and tip-toed 15 yards along the stripe before gaining his balance and streaking toward the end zone.

Despite having two injured offensive tackles. Howard outfinessed a huge Hampton defensive line, anchored by 6-foot-8 1/2, 302-pound Ernie White, for 180 yards on the ground. "They tried to muscle us but we blocked them pretty good, don't you think?"

Meanwhile, Paul Hall, Thomas Clark, Hunter and Scott Facyson, who was in on 15 tackles, made life miserable for Hampton.

Seaton completed only 10 of 27 passes and spent most of the afternoon looking up at the sky.