Howard's rally-from-behind Bison tried to stage their third straight comeback, against South Carolina State tonight.They overcame a 17-0 deficit, but two brought undefeated State a 30-17 victory before 9,000 partisans.

Howard had scored 16 points in the final six minutes to win its opener and tied powerful Bethune-Cookman a week ago on the game's final play. Tonight, the Boston had possession with nine minutes left.

But a fumble by leading Bison rusher Greg Banes set up the go-ahead touchdown and a 66-yard touchdown punt return by Rocky Cunningham sealed the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference defeat.

Tailback Chris Ragland (152 yards in 32 carries) and fullback Mack Reed (90 yards) combined for 242 yards rushing and three touchdowns, Ragland scoring the go-ahead TD on a 17-yard run two plays after Banes fumbled.

Big plays and crucial mistakes were the story of this mid-Eastern Atheltic Conference game. Howard made the mistakes early and fell behind, 17-0, in the first half. Alex Gardner's field goal opened the scoring. Ragland and Reed ran smack through the Bison front wall, rushing 200 yards in the first half and each scoring a touchdown on a short run.

The Bison seemed on the verge of a second straight blowout, having lost 55-17, to the Bulldogs last season.

But just before the first half ended, the State secondary fell asleep and Bison quarterback Ron Wilson heaved a 76-yard touchdown pass to streaking split end Tracy Singleton to cut the halftime deficit to 17-7.

Howard Ward's 42-yard field goal, and Wilson's three-yard run into the end zone after the Bulldogs fumbled on their five tied the game, 17-17.

"Don't ask me why we can't generate something in the first half, said Bison Coach Floyd Keith, who was found siting on a concrete stump under the stadium stand reflecting on his team's hard-fought defeat.

"We had them on the ropes," he added. "That's what makes this thing even more disappointing."

But the Bison let State off the ropes with just less than nine minutes remaining when Banes, who played three quarters despite a bruised knee and assorted ailments, fumbled at his 17. Two plays later Ragland took a pitchout from quarterback Prince Philips and danced untouched 17 yards for the score. But Howard nose guard Mike Walls blocked the extra-point attempt, leaving the Bison one touchdown away from the upset, 23-17.

The Bison thought they were ready to take the lead when Ivan Thompson took a punt 62 yards to the Bulldogs 25. But two clipping penalties wiped out the gain.

Two series later, Cunningham, the state champion in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, took a Ward punt and ran 66 yards down the near sideline, cut back to the middle of the field and raced in for the final blow and a 30-17 lead.

"Can you believe this game?" asked Keith. "The punt return was the biggie, but we just made too many critical mistakes and you can't do that and expect to beat the second best team in the division (1-AA).With the mistakes there are so many ifs -- but ifs don't win ball games.

"I told the guys they did a hell of a job," said Keith. "You have to learn from things, like making a mistake in a crucial moment. They made a fumble deep in their territory and we scored, but that was early. Our mistake was late in the game. It's just where and when."

"This team (Howard) is going to hurt, some people, you watch," Bill Davis said. "I don't want to see Howard University anymore."

Davis said his team, too, made crucial mistakes and put the Bison in a position to score an upset.

"I think somebody in our conference can beat the Bulldogs," said Howard quarterback Wilson -- whose final statistics (eight for 26 passing, 24 yards rushing) betrayed his fine effort.

"We can't worry about this game anymore," said Wilson. "We've just got to go down to Florida and play tough against A & M. We've only got one loss. We will still make a run at it."

Ragland, a 1,300-yard rusher last season, said the Bison could not hustle any harder than they did. "But I just felt we could come back after they tied the score," he said.

And it was Ragland and Reed who did the major damage in the fourth quarter, keeping the ball away from the Bison offense in the waning minutes. The Bulldogs stomped out 350 yards on the ground, but only 41 passing under the dim lights of Bulldog Stadium.

"We knew Howard's defense was quick but not necessarily very strong," said Ragland. "So we ran right at them."

Against a five-man defensive front with two linebackers, the Bulldog offensive line came off the line of scrimmage well in the second half, opening holes that allowed Reed and Ragland to rumble into the Bison secondary before being touched.

"We had a hell of a plan for them too," said Keith. "We threw on first down and ran on third. Our plan was to do whatever we were not supposed to do on a specific down.

"We lost this game but nobody can say we came in here and sat on anything. We played open football.

"And if anybody says we don't have a good football team I'll bust them in the mouth.