Howard, aided by a controversial personal foul call that nullified a blocked field goal attempt and long runback, defeated West Virginia State, 19-6, tonight in its football season opener.
Howard was trailing at the time, 6-3, late in the fourth quarter. The Bison offense moved well all night but failed to convert several scoring opportunities because of two lost fumbles and a missed field goal.
The controversial play unfolded after Greg Banes, Howard tailback who gained 117 yards and scored a touchdown, carried four straight times to the State three, before Bison quarterback Ron Wilson was sacked on third down.
That brought on Howard Ward for his third field goal attempt of the game. He was successful from 27 yards in the first quarter. The second appeared good but was ruled wide right by an indecisive official.
This time the snap from center was high, allowing several Yellow Jacket special team members to block Ward's kick.
State linebacker Lorne Harvey picked up the loose ball and scampered more than 60 yards. But a strange personal foul call by the linesman gave the ball back to the Bison with first-and-10 on the Yellow Jacket 11-yard line.
West Virginia State Coach Oree Banks was furious and delayed the game several minutes arguing the call with the officials on the sideline, but the decision stood.
"I couldn't see who it was," said Bison player Derek Lloyd. "But one of them did forearm me across the back of the neck. I didn't think they would call the penalty because all the breaks were going against us until that time. But then I saw the flag drop. Two of us tracked Harvey down anyway just in case."
But Howard, despite this break, could only manage a 20-yard Ward field goal to tie the game, 6-6.
After West Virginia State took the kickoff following Ward's second field goal, the Yellow Jackets could not make a first down and punted. After a Howard running play gained just two yards, Bison Coach Floyd Keith called a timeout prior to the second-down play from the State 40.
Wilson, who gained 70 yards rushing, went to the sideline and Keith sent back with him a trick reverse play that worked to perfection for a 12-6 Howard lead with four minutes left.
The play started with Wilson rolling toward the right sideline. He handed off to speedy sophomore split and Tracy Singleton who dashed around left and past the startled Yellow Jacket defense. Singleton had dropped a sure-bet 68-yard touchdown pass from Wilson in the third quarter which seemed to take the life out of the Bison offense momentarily.
"I just didn't concentrate on that pass," said Singleton, "so I asked the coach for another chance. I asked him to please let me make up for dropping that pass. I knew the reverse could work because West Virginia's defense was stacked to our right while the play was designed to go left.Coach Keith made a perfect call. I felt a little cramp in my right leg as I moved toward the end zone. I was going to cut back inside but with the cramp I realized I had to go straight in."
Howard defender Jimmy Diggs set up Howard's insurance score two plays after the Bison went ahead, when he intercepted a George Hall pass and returned it 16 yards to the Yellow Jacket 29.
Banes ended the scoring with a 15-yard dash around the left end after taking a pitchout from Wilson. "Coming into the game, I didn't know how much Greg would play," said Coach Keith, who called the game a "great win" in the midst of a frantic Bison locker room party.
"We needed this game a lot for our confidence," said Banes. "We wore them down with our offensive line game. I have to give the line all the credit for those running yards I got because I'm not yet in the best of shape having practiced only a couple of times."
Performing just as well was the Howard defense, which played fiercely in the second half, allowing the Yellow Jackets to complete only two passes. They were only burned once, in the second quarter by a 45-yard touchdown pass from Hall to tight end Bruce Hollingsworth giving the Yellow Jackets a 6-3 lead.
The Yellow Jacket loss disappointed nearly 8,000 fans in picturesque Laidley Field, carved between the mountains of Charleston.
It was the second straight season-opening loss for the Yellow Jackets, who dropped a 24-17 game to the Bison in Washington last year. The Bison desperately needed a victory to prepare them for a tough Bethune-Cookman team next Saturday at Howard.