tMisery, in the form of endless mistakes, penalties and fumbles, greeted Howard University yesterday in its chilly homecoming at RFK Stadium.

The Bison squanderd countless opportunities and Virginia State, which had been even more careless than Howard, held on for a shaky 17-15 victory, its first over the Bison since 1970.

Trojan quarterback Tony Colden's 55-yard touchdown strike to Eric Banks with 11:57 left provided the winning points but Howard penetrated the State 30 three times after that. However, two Howard Ward field goal attempts failed and Kevin Epps fumbled away the ball at the Trojan 18 with 1:31 to go the botch Howard's chances.

"We tried to give the game away two or three times," Trojan Coach Tom Morris said.

It was a bitter loss for Howard, now 3-3 under first-year Coach Floyd Keith. Keith and his first two units left on the team bus less than 10 minutes after the game. One Howard assistant referred questions to another Howard assistant. Two Howard players offered identical "No comment" remarks on their way out.

"It's really a tough one to lose," said Carl Angelo, Howard defensive coordinator. "When you're playing nine freshmen, you're going to make mistakes. It's going to take some time. We'll get it turned around, I'll promise you that."

Howard and Virginia State fans could argue for some time about which team hurt itself most. The Trojans fumbled eight times, losing seven, and were penalized 10 times for 103 yards. The Bision fumbled eight times, losing five, and were called for six penalties for 57 yards.

After Colden's touchdown pass in the final period, Howard's Greg Scott, a standout returner all day, took the ensuing kickoff 53 yards to the State 37. But four plays later, Ward was way short on a 47-yard field goal attempt.

Following the Trojans' next possession, Howard began on the State 42. The Bison drive, which move to the 21, was stopped by Willie Jackson Jr.'s jolting sack of reserve quarterback Brian Thomas. This time Ward's 43-yard field goal attempt was wide.

State decided to give Howard one more chance. On the Trojans' next series, Colden fumbled trying to pitch out, and Howard's Larry Hamilton recovered his second fumble of the afternoon. Howard took over on the Trojan 27 with 3:05 left, still needing only a field goal to win.

On second down from the 18, Epps was hit hard and lost the ball. Jackson recovered to clinch the victory.

"We wanted this badly. We've taken it from them for too long," Trojan running back Anthony Whitaker said.

Howard's offense, which has struggled all season, continued to have problems. The Bison did score the first touchdown off State's defense in 18 quarters and kept intact their streak of scoring when they penetrate the opponent's 10. But they showed little passing and could not get the big play in the second half.

Bison starting quarterback Ronald Wilson could not move the team and went out early in the third period. After one series in which Brian Jordan called signals, Thomas came in for the rest of the game.

The Bison started off well against Virginia State (5-1), owner of four straight shutouts entering the contest. Bufus Outlaw, who gaines 109 yards in 17 carries, raced 52 yards on the opening series to put Howard on the Trojan 21. It did not matter -- the friendly fumble was just around the corner. Outlaw lost the ball three plays later, and Trojan Davis Floyd recovered.

Early in the second quarter, State took a 3-0 lead on Melvin Knight's 28-yard field goal. Much of the Trojans' dirty work on the ground was done by brusing George Leonard, who gained 111 yards. The middle of the Howard defense seemed to contain the 5-foot-11, 210-pound Leonard most of the time, but the Petersburg, Va., senior still ground out three or four yards every time.

"Howard has a very good defensive team but George Leonard is a very good back," Morris said.

Howard spent much of the second quarter in Trojan territory and settled for three Ward field goals, from 22, 40 and 20 yards, to grab a 9-3 lead with 2:37 before intermission.

Just when the Bison faithful could sense Howard ready for the kill, Virginia State flashed its own murderous weapon -- a stunning 85-yard touchdown connection from Colden to Whitaker on State's first possession after Howard took the lead.

Whitaker was one of numerous Trojan receivers left open during the day and he gathered the ball at the Trojan 30 and raced 70 more yards to score.

Knight's extra point gave the Trojans a 10-9 lead at halftime.

Virginia State made another sacrificial offering to begin the second half and this time Howard graciously accepted. Howard's Hamilton recovered a Golden fumble on the first play of the third quarter, giving the Bison possession at the Trojan nine.

Starting quarterback Wilson, on fourth and goal from the one-foot line, followed center Anthony Reid into the end zone for a 15-10 Howard lead.

Ray Cryer failed on the run for a two-point conversion, and those two points were the difference.