Howard University posted its finest offensive statistics of the season but was thumped by North Carolina A&T, 28-16, yesterday in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference clash at RFK Stadium.
Howard quarterback Ronald Wilson threw for 220 yards and the Bison runners gained 104, for a total of 324, 100 more than A&T. But the quicker Aggies, now 2-1 in the conference and 4-4 overall, made the big plays when it counted.
The Aggies, who have not lost to the Bison in four years, took advantage of a 40-yard punt return by speedster Lon Harris and an interception by linebacker Frankie Chesson to put two third-period scores on the board to take a commanding 28-10 lead that held up.
"That punt return came as a result of our poor field position," said Howard Coach Doug Porter." We were backed up in our territory almost the entire second half and you could almost see the big return coming."
A&T punter Nolan Jones had kept Howard pinned down most of the game, prompting Porter to be very conservative with his play calling. Howard Ward, panting from his end zone, kicked a short punt that Harris fielded at the Howard 42. The 5-foot-6, 170-pound sophomore, one of the leading kick returners in Division I-AA, got two good blocks and sped 40 yards before being tackled at the two. Two plays later, freshman tailback Charles Sutton barreled over from the one for the six points. Jones added the kick and A&T led, 21-10, with 2-03 left in the third quarter.
Shortly thereafter, Wilson, who completed 13 of 28 passes for 220 yards, overthrew intended receiver Fitz Fowler and Chesson picked off the pass at the Howard 18. The sophomore, who also had nine tackles, returned the ball to the one. Sutton scored two plays later. Jones's kick was perfect and the Aggies led, 28-10, with 29 seconds left in the period.
A lineman grabbed my face mask on that interception but it wasn't called," said a dejected Wilson. "We were behind and they were looking for me to pass. They played a zone most of the time and I tried to throw underneath. A couple of my passes got away from me."
At that point, the game had gotten away from Howard, which fell to 1-3 in the conference and 2-4 overall. Dwain Board, 6-5, and 239, Lucien Nibbs, 6-7 and 268, and Leon Byrd, 6-4 and 235, simply blew past a tiring Bison offensive line to harass Wilson.
"We used nothing but a one-on-one charge. They just couldn't handle Board," said Nibbs.
Howard's young fron line did a creditable job on Board and company in the first half.The Bison took the opening kickoff and moved 72 yards before Ward booted a 25-yard field goal to put the Bison up, 3-0, with 7:38 to play in the period.
Not to be outdone, A&T took the ensuing kick and went 84 yards for a touchdown. Victor Elliott got behind Fred Spence and took a 36-yard pass from William Watson for the score.
Howard put together another short drives on its next possession but two Wilson passes fell incomplete and Ward missed a 45-yard field goal. The Bison then came right back and went 82 yards for a 10-7 lead on an 11-yard Wilson-to-Michael Tyler TD pass.
"We were just missing tackles on those drives. But with out line, we knew we could run on them and get back in the game," said A&T Coach Jim McKinley.
The crowd of 17,125 had hardly stopped cheering the Tyler touchdown before Watson took his club 82 yards in three minutes to regain the lead for good. Sutton, who finished with 110 yards on 29 carries, ripped off a 37-yard run to open the drive. The 6-2 220-pounder carried the ball the last four times, including the last yard for the touchdown.
"We used a lot of cross blocks and quick hitters," said A&T's 251-pound guard, Wheeler Brown. "Once they started to close up the middle, we either went to the outside or passed."
A&T rushed for 159 yards and Watson, who came into the game with just a 30 percent completion rate, hit on six of eight passes for another 65 yards.
"I was a little surprised the way they moved the ball on us early in the game," said Porter. "We're not mature enough to come back against a seasoned team. We have a lot of people banged up and we just don't have the depth. A&T is a big, aggressive team."
Howard closed out the scoring on Gary Madden's two-yard run with 53.