South Carolina State's Bulldogs controled both lines and got a 157 yard, four-touchdown rushing effort from Chris Ragland in annihilating Howard, 55-17, today.
The setback, Howard's first in three games, was the worst defeat the Bison have ever suffered at the hands of a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference foe. State also showed no mercy, passing twice in the last 20 seconds on the way to a seventh rub-it-in touchdown.
"I'm not going to comment of that, although I'll never forget it," said Howard Coach Floyd Keith. "But I don't ask anybody to take it easy on us."
The Bulldogs (4-0) held a 27-7 lead at the half. Midway through the third period, Howard pulled to within 14 points, 31-17, on a 79-yard run by quarterback Brian Thomas. Momentum at that point seemed to be in favor of the Bison, seeking to snap a five-game losing streak to S.C. State, five-time defending conference champion.
"I thought we were on the track after Thomas' run," said Keith. "Then they popped that 53-yarder on us on the very next play. That took it out of us."
Ragland's long touchdown run made it 38-17 with 5:15 left in the third quarter. Howard actually had another chance to reduce the margin to two touchdowns early in the fourth quarter.
Split end Greg Scott beat the Bulldog coverage to catch a bomb from Ron Wilson -- one of three Bison passers who saw action. But Scott, a 4.4 second 40-yard man, was unable to outrun Tom Tutson, who shoved him out of bounds at the 21 with 12:28 left. The visitors subsequently failed on a field goal attempt.
"That's when you could tell the heat had gotten to them," said defensive tackle Phil Murphy. "Howard should have had a touchdown. But the receiver was exhausted and couldn't take it all the way."
The home team ignored the 75 degree heat and 90 percent humidity to score 31 points in the final 30 minutes, 17 in the last quarter. But the Bulldogs were still not satisfied, despite their second 50-point-plus game of the season.
"We had an off day," said senior Murphy, whose 6-foot-6, 270-pound presence discouraged any thought of argument.
"We have to come off the ball better, be a little more vicious and physical. They embarrassed us on a couple of situations. I don't like that."
However, Murphy and 240-pound tackle John Alford -- who combined for five quarterback sacks -- anchored a Bulldog defense that stymied Howard on its first few possessions.
The Bison amassed a total of five yards on their first four possessions. Three yards came when they recovered their own fumbles. Howard finally made a first down late in the first half.
That came on a 13-yard, third-down pass from Thomas to Scott to keep alive a 69-yard march. Tight end Fitz Fowler caught a one-yard touchdown pass with 1:44 remaining.
That score put Howard on the board and guaranteed the Bison would not suffer their fifth shutout in six years against the Bulldogs.
"We played a little too conservatively for a while, trying to feel them out," said Bison backfield Coach Rickie Harris.
The Bulldogs are geared to stop the run. Last season, a junior dominated defense held the opposition to 1.5 yards per attempt. This season finds runners picking up 1.8 yards.
"We have confidence in our secondary," Murphy said. "We stopped Howard's run early and they had to go mostly to the air in the second quarter."
Actually, the first pass from Howard starting quarterback Ron Wilson -- the game's third play -- started the damage. Dexter Clinkscale made a leaping interception and returned it 24 yards to the Bison 17. Ragland, a 5-foot-8, 187-pounder, ran twice for the remaining yards to make it 7-0 with 2:05 expired.
Ragland and Cornelius Reed (nine rushes for 72 yards) continued to make sizable gains thanks to sloppy tackling on the part of the Bison. By halftime, the hosts had rushed for 124 yards and gained 118 through the air. Howard totaled 78.
The Bison finished the game with 78 yards rushing. Taking away Thomas's 79-yard scoring run, Howard's total for the 28 other attempts was minus one yard.
Once again, the Bison were hurt by the big play. Bulldog quarterback Prince Phillips, who alternated with Nate Rivers, completed a half-dozen passes for a whopping 172 yards. The Bulldogs totaled 504 yards.