Howard University Football Coach Floyd Keith said boredom, not the heat, was the reason his Bison let a 27-7 first-half lead over Cheyney State slip away yesterday before settling for a 33-23 opening-day victory before 7,200 at Howard Stadium.

The boredom stemmed from a combination of Cheyney State mistakes, and a team of officials ready and willing to drop penalty flags. Cheyney was called for 18 penalties totaling 253 yards. Howard was called for nine penalties, costing 88 yards.

The Wolfpack also threw two interceptions, lost the ball twice on fumbles, missed open receivers and had an 85-yard kickoff return for an apparent touchdown called back because a player clipped the kicker, who never made a move to go downfield.

Still, the Division II team had a chance to take the lead for the first time with less than two minutes remaining. Quarterback Pedro Barry had receiver Willie Tolbert open downfield, but he overthrew him on a second-down, 54-yard pass play.

Barry threw an incomplete pass on third down and his fourth-down completion gained no yards, allowing Howard to take over on the Cheyney 46. The Bison scored two plays and a penalty later.

Howard showed its best early. On the fourth play of the game, quarterback Raymond Gray threw a 63-yard touchdown pass to split end Tracy Singleton, who avoided double coverage on the left sideline.

Cheyney wasted no time repeating the mistakes that led to its 3-2 loss to the University of the District of Columbia last week. On Cheyney's first play from scrimmage, Mark Johnson fumbled and Keith Newsome recovered for the Bison at the Cheyney 19.

Cheyney managed to run three plays on its second possession, before Newsome intercepted Barry's pass and returned it 16 yards for the Bison to the Cheyney 12. Bufus Outlaw, who gained 43 yards on 10 carries, scored on an eight-yard trap play to make it 14-0.

A face-mask penalty on a punt later in the quarter gave Howard possession at the 50. Gray (10 of 16 for 156 yards) directed a 10-play drive that included a 19-yard completion to Charles Lawrence and a 13-yarder to Singleton, who was named the offensive player of the game with seven catches for 136 yards. Gray scored on a one-yard sneak for a 21-0 lead.

"We had the edge. We just lost the old fire," said Keith. "It was boring after the second quarter. It was even boring to me, and I shouldn't be saying that."

Cheyney State came out throwing in the second half, not bored. Barry threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Gary Williams, and with 3:54 to go in the quarter, found fullback Willie Tolbert open on the left sideline for a 24-yard touchdown. After each score, Barry threw for a two-point conversion, cutting the Bison lead to 27-23.