For the first time in six games, the Bison defense yesterday matched the consistency the offense has shown as Howard celebrated homecoming by defeating Division II Virginia State, 26-14, at RFK Stadium.
The victory was the second in a row for Howard (3-3).
Sophomore Sandy Nichols completed 10 of 18 passes for 154 yards. He threw first-half touchdown passes of 31 yards to Tracy Singleton and five yards to Melvin Sutton as the Bison built a 20-0 halftime lead over the team they now have beaten 10 times in the last 11 meetings. Four of Nichols' completions went to Singleton for 89 yards.
The injury-plagued defense entered the contest yielding an average of 26.8 points a game. Yesterday, Howard had more healthy players than at any time since opening day.
They stopped Virginia State's runners, limiting them to 26 yards on 33 carries. They pressured freshman quarterback Allen Butler most of the game. He was a 51 percent passer before it started, but completed only 11 of 33, with two interceptions, for 174 yards. Five of his completions, for 103 yards, came in the fourth quarter after Howard had a 26-6 lead.
"We still have to improve, but I think we are getting better," said Howard Coach Floyd Keith, who started just two seniors. "We are getting closer to finding our team. We are sustaining more drives. If we stay healthy, we are going to be a good football team."
Howard's defense was tested early, and passed. Sutton lost sight of a punt, which bounced in front of him, took a high hop and glanced off his shoulder. Kelvin Jordan recovered for the Trojans at the Howard 20. Butler's pass to Bernard Jackson gave Virginia State a first down at the five, but Butler underthrew a receiver on third down at the three and his fourth down pass was dropped in the end zone by Barry Brown.
"That gave our kids, the freshmen and sophomores, some confidence," said Carl Angelo, Howard's defensive coordinator.
It was the last threat the Trojans mounted while the score was close. Three minutes later, Howard's Derek Lloyd fell on a punt Trojan Jerry Johnson dropped at the Virginia State 46. A personal foul penalty gave the Bison a first down at the 31.
On the next play, Nichols threw into the end zone for Singleton. The split end had beaten defender Samuel Briggs, but came back to catch the underthrown ball for a touchdown with 2:36 left in the first quarter.
Nichols, starting for the second time, continued to gain confidence, especially standing in the pocket under a heavy rush. On a rollout right with 4:10 left in the half, he threw to Sutton, cutting across the middle, for a touchdown.
The quarterback Nichols replaced, senior Raymond Gray, came in with 2:30 left in the half and completed three straight passes, including a 31-yarder to Charles Lawrence. His five-yard pass to Richard Vickers on a rollout gave the Bison a 20-0 lead with 1:14 to go.
Virginia State's Anthony Whitaker scored on a one-yard run in the third period to complete a 60-yard, nine-play drive that made the score 20-6, but Howard responded with a 66-yard drive that ended with Sutton's eight-yard touchdown run.
Butler threw a 19-yard pass to Elton Pierce with 8:51 remaining for the Trojans' final score.