Southern University came to muddy Howard Stadium yesterday boasting the nation's best Division I-AA defense and strengthened its reputation with a 30-0 victory.
Southern held the Bison to 18 yards rushing and 101 total, with Howard quarterbacks Ron Wilson and Brian Thomas managing only five completions in 28 attempts. Howard's beleaguered, patchwork offensive line was no match for these Louisianans.
Howard could not cross midfield until the 48th minute of play, and by that time Southern Coach Cass Jackson had used a third-string quarterback nicknamed "Mouse" and many other reserves.
Southern (6-3) kept the Bison in poor field position, but Howard's defense did a good job of keeping its team in the game until the end of the first half, when the visitors drove 75 yards for one touchdown and blocked a punt by Howard Ward for another, 31 seconds apart.
"They just beat us. They're too good," said Howard's Floyd Keith, the first-year coach whose team is 4-5. "We did everything, tried everything. We threw everything at them we had."
That included some punches late in the game when two minor skirmishes broke out on the field, delaying play some five minutes. Two players from each team were ejected. It was something Keith did not want to discuss afterward.
"It's a sad thing when football gets like that," Keith said. "That's not football; it's backyard football."
Howard knew it could not run inside against the big Southern defense. And Jackson formulated his game plan to stop Howard's outside veer attack. So that turned Howard to the passing game.
Early on, the Bison dropped some open passes such as the one tight end Fitz Fowler could not hold when he was a step and a half beyond defender Eddie Johnson at the Southern 20, on Howard's first offensive possession.
From then on, it was a nightmare. In 22 plays, covering part of six series, Howard's total offense was a minus two yards and the Bison had not completed a pass.
The essence of Howard's offensive troubles was shown on the series before Southern made it 14-0. Wilson had finally completed a pass. In fact, he had completed three in a row, the last giving Howard third and one at its 45. Wilson called a quarterback sneak.
The Southern line buried center Clyde Davis, a 180-pound sophomore who started the season as a running back, and dropped Wilson for no gain. Howard punted on the next play.
Then quarterback Elgin Stewart, who had his own problems passing earlier in what he called "The Mud Bowl," connected on three passes for 44 yards in the 75-yard run up the middle by fullback Aaron Kent for his second touchdown.
That made it 14-0 with 1:50 left in the half.
Four plays later, Southern linebacker Lloyd Robinson blocked a Ward punt -- it was the third time this season Ward has had one blocked -- and defensive back Brian Matthews picked the ball out of the air. He ran 15 yards for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead.
It appeared that Ward, whose punting had helped Howard out of a hole in last week's victory over Hampton Institute, was having trouble with his footing yesterday. He appeared to take too much time on this kick.
"There wasn't much that didn't hurt us," Keith said when asked about the kicking game. "It's usually been pretty good.
"That was the key play," added Keith, always an optimist. "It took away any chance we had to come back. We score and it's 14-6."
Instead it was 21-0 and Howard went straight backward on its second possession of the second half, Thomas' third sack in six plays from scrimmage resulting in a safety by Carter Spruiell.
It took Southern only six plays to score again, with second-string quarterback William Mayo, formerly of McKinley High, hitting wingback Michael Vaughn of Landover with a 40-yard touchdown pass.
From there, all that was left was for Matthews to intercept two Howard passes and for the two brief fights to break out on the field.
One disgruntled Howard fan left the stadium saying: "Not only did we lose the game, we lost the fight, too."