Two years ago, Howard University defensive tackle Thomas Spears skipped off RFK Stadium's field at half-time with a sly smile on his face after his team had roared to a 21-0 advantage over archrival North Carolina A&T.
In the second half, the Aggies junked a running game that Spears and Co. had ravished and winged their way back to a 21-21 tie to throw a damper on Howard's homecoming.
"We didn't think they could come back," said Spears, a four-year starter out of Los Angeles. "We got complacent and then it was too late. We felt we had it all wrapped up."
Howard never got started against A&T last year in Greensboro and was bombed, 34-10.
"We weren't in that one at all," recalls the 6-foot-4, 275-pounder. "This time, we will concentrate on playing four quarters of ball, not two or three."
That will be the main objective for Howard tomorrow - to put together four good quarters - when it faces homecoming at RFK at 1:30 p.m.
After an 0-3 start Howard has regained respectability with wins over Delaware State, 37-6, and Virginia State, 27-20.
The defense that was burned for nearly 900 yards in those first three losses has, according to linebacker Larry Hamilton, "cut down on our mistakes, improved a little each week and begun to play good, sound football.
"We're looking for shutouts the rest of our games, right?"
It has been the defensive play of Hamilton, Spears and Scott Facyson that has rescued Howard from the verge of total collapse. The trio played a major role in shutting down Virginia State last week, while their teammates raced back from a 20-7 deficit.
"Our defense is designed for the line to funnel everything to us. They keep the blockers off us and we make the tackles," said Facyson, a 6-1, 210-pound junior. "The offense is also getting itself together and that really helps us. We're getting chances to rest."
Howard Coach Doug Porter said, "We mainly use a 5-2 or split-four and the kids are just beginning to play them very well. They are learning more about one another. Another thing - I don't want to jinx us - is that they have been healthy.
"The offense is coming along. We have to control the ball against A&T so the defense won't stay on the field seven and eight minutes at a time."
In the musical-chairs game at quarterback, Ronald Wilson will start against the Aggies following his two-touchdown performance last week.
Howard's young offensive line finaly has begun to move some people. Running backs Leonard Orr (203 yards on 65 carries), Greg Banes (144 on 36 tries) and Beeman Veasley (129 on 14 attempts) will attest to the holes being there, at last.
A&T, winner of seven of its final eight games last year, has not found an adequate replacement for three-time All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference quarterback Ellsworth Turner, and has stumbled to a 3-4 record.
A&T is 1-1 in conference play, the Bison 1-2.
Carolina's William Watson has completed only 17 of 50 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns. William Joyner is the big man in the Aggie rushing attack, having carried the ball 85 times for 295 yards.
A&T leads in the short but spirited series, 5-4-2 . . . Steve Wilson, the leading receiver in Howard history, recently moved into third place on the all-time MEAC list with 78 receptions. The senior has caught 12 passes this year . . . A&T's Lon Harris ranks among the top five division I-AA punt-and kickoff-return men with averages of 13.1 and 28.0, respectively . . . His return mate, Gerald Johnson, leads I-AA in punt returns with a 16.1 average. Each has scored once . . . The Aggie defense has allowed 350 yards per contest as compared with Howard's 275.