Despite a turbulent week that saw two players dismissed from the team in major disputes and only two full days of practice, Howard University routed powerful North Carolina A&T, 35-14, yesterday for its third straight victory. About 6,000 ecstatic fans at waterlogged Howard Stadium, watched the Bison's final Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference contest.
"It was a hell of a win," said Bison Coach Floyd Keith. "Nobody in this city gave us a chance to win this game. These kids deserve all the credit in the world for putting everything out of their minds except this football game. It's probably the biggest win we've had in my two years here." It was also the first time Howard (4-2-1) overall, 2-2-1 in the MEAC) had beaten A&T since 1974.
Bison quarterback Ronald Wilson demonstrated for the third straight week why he is the best offensive player in the conference by completing 12 of 19 passes for 233 yards and one touchdown in picking apart the MEAC's second-ranked defense.
Six of those passes, totaling 194 yards, were caught by sophomore split end Tracy Singleton, who helped set up two Howard scores by hauling in passes of 60 and 53 yards, both on first-down plays.
The much-heralded A&T rushing game, which had averaged 300 yards in six previous games, was held in check by a Howard defense which had been the weakest in the conference against the run. The Aggie runners needed 57 carries to gain 267 yards and two touchdowns.
But much of that total, including A&T quarterback William Watson's 19-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, came after Howard had run up a 22-0 lead. Watson completed only two of four passes for eight yards and was sacked eight times in the driving rain.
The massive A&T offensive line, nicknamed "Operation Push," was no match for Howard's defensive line and linebackers Danny Williams and Corky McCorkle. Linemen Larry Hamilton, Kenneth Pimpton and Jeff Wise (19 tackles and assists) "had excellent pursuit," said Pimpton. "We angled our stunts more," said Hamilton. "We shifted our defensive alignments and stunts, which caused their offense to call a lot of audibles at the line of scrimmage," said Williams, "but we didn't do a lot of blitzing."
The Bison "Blue Crush" defense gave Howard a 7-0 lead early when Chris Jackson, a hero for two straight weeks, blocked Aaron Herring's 29-yard field goal attempt and returned it 71 yards untouched for the touchdown. Jackson set a school record last week against Virginia State by intercepting three passes.
Wilson, who has been masterful the last three weeks, passed to Singleton, Charles Lawrence and tailback Cornelius Quarles, putting the Bison inside the A&T 15 where Wilson called a quarterback draw and dragged five Aggie defenders sloshing through the mud into the end zone for a 14-0 lead.
Wilson opened the second half with a first-down, 60-yard pass to Singleton, leading to tailback Greg Banes' seven-yard touchdown, making it 20-0. The Bison knew it had to be their day when, on the extra point attempt, the snap from center rolled to holder Wilson, who picked it up, sprinted out to his left and threw to Mason for a two-point conversion.
The Aggies, aided by two 15-yard Bison face-mask penalties, finally scored in the third quarter on Cleotis Johnson's one-yard touchdown plunge to close the gap to 22-6, but the two-point conversion pass by Watson was intercepted in the end zone by Bison linebacker Williams.
Howard Ward added field goals of 34 and 38 yards, and Wilson hit Quarles with an eight-yard scoring pass to give the Bison their second straight conference win and keep alive their slim hopes of receiving a postseason bowl bid.
"I'm not thinking about anything but playing Hampton Institute next week," said Keith.
The second-year coach surprised the Aggies by implementing the shotgun on third-and-long situations to give quarterbacks Wilson and Raymond Gray (two of four passing, 29 yards) more time to look for their receivers who had difficulty running their patterns because of the muddy field.
"I saved the shotgun for this particular team," said Keith. "It seemed like they sacked our quarterback 15 times last year (in A&T's 29-0 win) and we couldn't afford that again. I just try to use things that other coaches don't expect to see, that's all."
Wilson, the senior from Anacostia High, completed 15 of 17 passes in last week's win over Virginia State.He insists the team's once-maligned passing game is now the team's strong suit and he and Keith are not afraid to throw on any down from anywhere on the field against anyone. "The shotgun has given us one more dimension to help us keep the opposition off balance," said Wilson, who with Banes (60 yards rushing yesterday) in the first half, executed a surprising draw play from the shotgun, gaining 11 yards. f
"We had to win today. It was important for us to restore our pride," said Wilson, referring to the week of controversy that saw former starters Ivan Thompson and his roommate Ricky Tripplet dismissed from the team. "I think we successfully showed today that we can't let anything affect us as a team."