Howard's offensive line allowed quarterback Raymond Gray to be sacked nine times and the Bison turned the ball over six times as they lost their Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opener, 19-13, to Bethune-Cookman tonight.
Bethune-Cookman quarterback Kenny McMillian, who completed seven of 14 passes for 88 yards, threw first-quarter touchdown passes of 38 yards to Willie Abrams and 23 yards to Reggie Sandiland. The Wildcats won their first game after two nonleague losses in which they did not score a touchdown.
Gray rarely had time to throw the ball. Bethune-Cookman's defensive ends, 6-foot-7, 255-pound Booker Reese and 6-4, 245-pound Charles Riggens, each had two sacks.
When Howard (1-1) fell behind, 19-7, late in the third quarter, the Wildcat defense zeroed in on the Bison quarterback since Howard had to pass to win.
Linebacker Steve Hammond had three sacks, bringing Gray down on consecutive plays in the fourth quarter when Howard seemed to be coming back. The Bison were trailing, 19-13, after Gray scored on a one-yard run with 7:41 left and had a break when Charles Taylor recovered a fumble at the Howard 46.
But 41 seconds later Hammond sacked Gray on second and third down. Gray had been tackled for an eight-yard loss on the first play of the series by linebacker Lee Williams.
Howard's last opportunity was ended by defensive back John Bostic, who intercepted a pass at his own seven with 22 seconds left.
"It was enough chances to win," said Howard Coach Floyd Keith. "They (the Bison offensive line) do a pretty good job running the ball, but you can't win games playing like we did tonight. It's easy (for the opposition) when you just have to play the pass."
The Bison had several opportunities to score in the second half, but they could not capitalize.
Down, 13-7, at the half, the Bison tried running outside Reese and Riggens in the third quarter. Sophomore Melvin Sutton took a pitch right 18 yards and Richard Vickers went three yards on a pitch left on the following play. Having eased the charging Wildcats somewhat, Gray had enough time to throw a 24-yard completion to split end Tracy Singleton (two catches for 44 yards) to the Bethune-Cookman 20. But Singleton fumbled when he was hit by Brian Dudley.
After a Bethune punt, Gray threw a 50-yard pass toward Singleton. The ball was underthrown, but pass interference was called, giving the Bison a first down on the Bethune 24. Still the offensive line could not hold back Reese, touted as a high NFL draft choice next year. After blocking a pass on third and eight, Reese teamed with Hammond and Rod McGahee to throw Gray for a seven-yard loss.
Late in the third quarter, Vickers fumbled on the Howard 27 when he was hit by Jonathan Perry. Abrams broke through the center of the line on first down and veered to an open space to the left. He scored untouched for a 19-6 Wildcat lead.
Before scoring for the last time, Howard blew another opportunity.
After recovering a fumble on the Bethume 30, Howard drove to the Wildcat two in four plays. With running backs Bufus Outlaw (12 carries, 38 yards) and Vickers (nine for 48) on the sideline with injuries, Keith sent in sophomore Anthony Evans for the first time and called for Evans to go over the top. Evans fumbled and Hammond recovered.
McMillan played little in Bethume's first two games because Coach Bobby Frazier thought he had an attitude problem. Frazier threw him off the team eight days ago, but McMillian reemerged as the starter on Wednesday.
His first pass was incomplete, but his second was a swing right to Abrams, and the fullback broke five tackles while running for a 38-yard score.