Howard University spotted Florida A & M a 28-0 lead midway into the second quarter and spent the rest of this afternoon trying to look respectable in front of about 20,000 fans in the Gator Bowl as the Rattlers rolled to a 42-25 victory in their first-ever Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference contest.
FAMU, as expected, ran the ball -- 50 times for 224 yards including 134 yards (97 on his first three carries) by lightning-fast tailback Archie Jones. He ran for a 69-yard score on the Rattlers' second play from scrimmage to give FAMU a 7-0 lead.
The Bison, who entered the game with the worst rushing defense in the MEAC, permitted all six FAMU touchdowns via the run, by five different Rattlers.
Howard trailed, 28-7, at halftime, the Bison's only score coming on a 33-yard Ron Wilson-to-Robert Artisst pass 33 seconds before intermission.
Artisst was brilliant for the Bison, catching four passes, including two for touchdowns, totaling 114 yards as a secondary receiver. Wilson's main target, Tracy Singleton, entered the game as the No. 1 receiver in the conference, but was double- and triple-teamed early and had four catches for 66 yards. Most of those, however, were late in the game after FAMU had riddled the Bison defense like fire burning through a haystack.
"We felt we could really win this game," said Bison defensive end Ken Pimpton. "Now it's really hard to come down to (the) reality that we lost it."
The loss, Howard's second straight in conference play, has made bleak its chances of playing in the Gold Bowl at season's end. The Bison are 1-2-1 overall.
Their "Blue Magic" offense dazzled the Rattler defense in the second half, cutting the deficit to 28-17. Wilson, who completed only six of 15 passes for 126 yards, scored on a one-yard touchdown run and dependable Howard Ward kicked a 38-yard field goal that would have been good from 60 yards.
But when Wilson had a chance to cut the lead even further on the Bison's next series from the Rattler 10, his errant pass toward the end zone was picked off by Sparky Ramsey.
"I misread the play," said a dejected Wilson, who left the game in the third quarter in favor of backup quarterback Raymond Gray.
"The pass was for Artisst," Wilson continued. "He was supposed to curl up but didn't and I threw to the spot where I thought he would be and it got picked off."
As Wilson admitted, it was a chance for the Bison to come from behind for the fourth straight time this season. But the interception dashed all their rejuvenated hopes and renewed the interest of the partisan FAMU crowd, which had grown pensive with the Bison offensive surge in the third quarter.
"We were coming back," said Wilson. But anytime you give up 28 points in the first quarter you know it's going to be a long afternoon. A football game is four quarters. The team that plays four quarters will win."
The Bison grew dejected in the first quarter after Jones' touchdown run and Robert Linton's four-yard interception run for a score a few plays later. aWilson was back to throw but had his throwing arm jarred by Tony Hayes, the ball popping straight into the waiting hands of Linton. He had recovered a fumble by tailback Ivan Thompson on Howard's opening series to set up Jones' score.
Other than that fumble, Thompson was more than adequate in the absence of leading rusher Greg Banes, who was left in Washington to heal assorted wounds from previous poundings. Thompson had 118 yards rushing in 18 carries, including 46 of a 67-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter.
The defense was to blame for just about everything else in the defeat.
"I don't believe it," said Bison Coach Floyd Keith, whose team has now allowed 72 points in its last two games after permitting only 19 in the first two. "The offense scores 25 points and we still lose. That's ridiculous."
FAMU's Jones, who led the nation last year in yards per carry (8.4) averaged more than 12 yards per run today, and said he had gaping holes to romp through on almost every handoff and pitchout from quarterback Nathaniel Koonce.
"They cut back a lot against the grain on almost all of Jones' runs," said Pimpton. "The whole defense broke down -- especially against Jones. We shut down a lot of his runs on the original design, but then he cut back and picked up 17, 18, 20, 69 yards."
Jones and Greg Fashaw (two carries, 28-yards, two touchdowns) controlled the ball in the fourth quarter, keeping the Bison offense from making the came any closer.
"We'll have a tough week of practice, but we shouldn't make any drastic changes," Wilson said. "Once you make drastic changes, you create confusion. cAnd at this stage of the season we certainly don't need that."