Howard Ward's 23-yard field goal with no time remaining gave Howard University a bittersweet 13-13 tie with perennial black-college power Bethune-Cookman in the Bison home opener yesterday.
Howard entered the game as a heavy underdog to the Wildcats, who were playing their first game ever in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. It looked as if the Bison would be no match for the rugged visitors, as the Wildcats took a 10-0 halftime lead.
But the Bison's second straight come-from-behind performance -- they won their opener with 16 points in the final six minutes -- had Cookman backpeddling. Howard could have won the game with four seconds left but a seemingly sure touchdown pass intended for Tracy Singleton in the end zone was tipped away, making Howard settle for Ward's game -- ending field goal.
"I was numb; that's all I remember," said Howard Coach Floyd Keith about the moments before the field goal.
The Bison offense had brought nearly 7,000 Howard Stadium fans to their feet with a 16-play, 80-yard drive in the final six minutes, setting up Ward's second field goal.
Last year, Keith and his 5-6 squad would have been blown out by the likes of Bethune -- Cookman, but this team is more experienced and knows its offense can execute under pressure, as it has in the first two games of this season.
"At least I know this team can perform under pressure," Keith said. "Bison teams in the past used to score a bundle of points on the opposition in the first half and then fold up every time in the second half."
But after the fierce comeback, most Bison players and coaches couldn't decide whether to be happy for not losing or disappointed for not winning in the final seconds.
"I'm glad we didn't lose," said quarterback Ron Wilson. "But then again, I'm not really glad because we didn't win. That sounds crazy, I guess, but I've got mixed emotions."
Wilson's sterling second-half performance was the main reason Howard (1-0-1) was able to overcome the 10-0 halftime deficit and catch a defensively strong Cookman team (1-0-1) which lost 11 players this week, including three regulars, to academic ineligibility.
Wilson keyed the frantic game-ending drive and finished the afternoon with 37 yards rushing and 213 passing as he completed 13 of 22 attempts. Time and again he waited in the passing pocket until his receivers broke clear, in the process absorbing some tough licks from the Wildcat front four.
Ward, who also had punts of 42 and 68 yards, became Howard's all-time leading scorer (140 points) by booting a 38-yard field goal in the third quarter to tie the game, 10-10..
The dependable senior from North Carolina had barely missed an attempt from 32 yards out in the second quarter but insisted he wasn't nervous about being called on at the end, when he made his fourth field goal in six tries this young season.
Cookman quarterback Ken McMillian had picked apart the Bison secondary in the first quarter, hitting fullback Rufus Wilson and receiver Darryl Crane at will, out of well-disguised offensive formations. In addition, Wilson and tailback Mike Revell bulldozed their way for more than 120 yards. wCookman Coach Bobby Frazier compares Wilson to Ricky Claitt, the former Wildcat star starting at fullback for the Redskins.
Several Bison penalties and McMillian passes to tight end Herb Wright set up a seven-yard, beautifully timed pass to Crane who was streaking for the corner of the end zone. That gave Cookman a 7-0 lead.
A noticeably more intense and enthusiastic Bison team appeared in the third quarter and stopped Cookman cold on its first possession. After the Wildcats punted, it took Howard just five plays to cut the lead to 10-7.
Ward's 38-yarder tied the game late in the third quarter, but Morgan, Cookman's substitute kicker (Dennis Daniels is ineligible) squibbed a 20-yard field goal off the side of his right foot and the Wildcats were up by three again, 13-10.
In driving to the game-ending field goal, Howard converted three third-and-long-yardage situations. Two came on acrobatic catches by Singleton, who gained 123 yards on seven receptions. Two Wilson passes to Robert Artisst for 18 yards and Wilson's own scrambling gave Howard first down on the 11.
With 38 seconds left, Wilson surged for eight yards. But his second-down pass to Mason was incomplete and nearly intercepted. Nine seconds left. Wilson, without taking the Bison's final timeout, rolled right and spotted Singleton in the right corner of the end zone. But Wildcat safety Troy Anderson tipped the ball just enough so that Singleton couldn't haul it in.