All season long Howard University has been burned by big plays.
The Bison pulled off a few of their own yesterday for a surprisingly easy 26-16 triumph over Southern at RFK Stadium.
Evening its mark at 4-4. Howard played superbly most of the afternoon. The defensive unit, anchored by James (Boo) Hunter, Leonard Stephens and Larry Hamilton, manhandled the visitors' offensive line and kept the quickfooted backs from breaking long runs.
The Jaguars gained only 35 yards on 39 rushes. Freshman quarterback Alex Willis was treated rudely on his first visit to the Nation's Capitol, completing only three of 13 passes for 43 yards. Hunter and Co. also sacked the frustrated Willis four times for losses totaling 33 yards.
"We had a lot to prove. People always say how rough the SWAC (Southwestern Athletic Conference) teams are and we wanted to show we can play with them," said Hunter "The MEAC (Mid Eastern Athletic Conference) team did O.K. today, I think."
The Bisot, amassed 266 yards, but 213 came through the air. Sophomore quarterback Brian Thomas, inconsistent most of the season, ran the ball a game-high 16 times for minus 13 yards, although 38 yards in losses were a result of sacks.
But when Thomas was not sprinting around the ends, he was having a field day throwing to wide-open receivers. He completed 13 of 20 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns. Thomas also scored Howard's other touchdown on a one-yard plunge.
Howard coach Dough Porter was not at all displeased his quarterback was running more than his backs. "We have to do that to keep pressure on the defense," Porter said.
"We knew it would be tough running on Southern inside so we went to sweeps and wide plays," said Porter. "We've had enough adversity this year. We certainly needed a few big plays."
After a scoreless first period, punctuated only by a dropped "touchdown" pass by Southern's Larry Marshall and a missed 42-yard field goal by the visitor's Roosevelt Seaberry, the Bison went to work.
Thomas mixing plays well moved the Bison 70 yards to the Jaguar 10-yard line and Howard Ward booted a 27-yard field goal to put Howard on top 0 with 8:14 left in the first half.
"They gained the early momentum and we just didn't execute well," said Southern coach Ken Tillage who took over the head job two games ago after Charlie Bates quit because of a player boycott. "We just gave up too many third-down plays."
After Southern failed to move on it's next possession. Thomas led a 58-yard march to the Southern goal line. It took the Bison four tries from inside the three-yard line to get it over. Thomas bulled in from an inch away and Ward booted the conversion. The Bison had a 10-0 advantage at intermission.
The second hald began poorly for the Jaguars, who were penalized for spending too much time in the locker room wondering where their offense had gone. The Bison took the secondhalf kickoff and, after two running plays netted only two yards to the Howard 36. Thomas rifled a bullet to split end Darryl Dennis, who never broke stride as he outran Southern defenders to the end zone.
The crowd of 6,000 was still buzzing about the stunning 17-0 advantage when Southern's Isaac Betts lit a spark under his lethargic teammates. The fleet punt-returner fielded a Ward punt and darted 63 yards untouched for a Southern score. Michael Garrett caught a Richard Wilson pass for the two-point conversion.
Thomas pulled off a five fake and hid the ball on his hip as he rolled to his left Greg Scott was wide open behind a surprised Jaguar secondary and easily gathered in the soft toss to complete the 43-yard scoring play.
Willis was having more problems. On Southern's next series Stephens slammed Willis to the ground for an 11-yard loss to his 15. On the next plat Hamilton ran Willis down and sacked him for a safety as Howard's lead swelled to 26-8 with 17:54 left in the game.
"We've been our own cheerleaders lately. But we played today like we're capable of playing," said Porter. "This game should convince the fellows they can play with anyone."
Southern (3-5-1) made the score respectable. Marshall catching a nine-yard Elgin Steward with 2:12 remaining Stewart completed nine of 14 for 140 yards. His final toss of the game was tnercepted by Howard's Richard Massey. The All-America track star returned the ball 10 yards and dashed off the field with both hands raised above his head.