Howard took advantage of a controversial pass interference penalty in the final two minutes to score the go-ahead touchdown and defeat North Carolina A&T, 21-17, in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game today.
The Bison (4-3, 3-2 in the MEAC) trailed A&T, 17-7, early in the fourth quarter, but were revived by a six-yard touchdown pass from Sandy Nichols to Robert Artisst with 13:16 remaining.
Trailing, 17-14, with less than two minutes remaining, Howard Coach Floyd Keith decided to go with his strength as the Bison were faced with third and 10 from the Aggie 34.
Nichols threw a high-arching pass toward Tracy Singleton, Howard's leading receiver. The pass was overthrown, but in the chase Singleton collided with defensive back Kevin Robinson and the A & T player was whistled for interference.
Suddenly, Howard had first and goal at the Aggie 4. Charles Vickers ran four yards for the touchdown on the next play and Perky Warner kicked the extra point to give the Bison a 21-17 lead with 1:31 to play.
A & T managed one first down after the kickoff, on a Howard holding penalty, but ran out of time.
It was Howard's third straight victory of the season. The Aggies lost their fifth consecutive game, despite gaining 436 yards total offense, including 356 rushing.
"It was a legitimate call," said Keith of the interference penalty. "My choice is this: I throw it to my best receiver and he'll catch it, or they'll double cover him and there's the chance of pass interference."
A & T Coach Jim McKinley saw things differently.
"It was obviously offensive pass interference," said McKinley, whose team lost to Delaware State last week in the final three minutes. "Our kid was five yards behind theirs, going up for the football. Their guy just ran into him. We had already been talking on the sidelines about fourth down. We were trying to decide what defense to run on fourth and 25."
After closing the deficit to 17-14, the Bison failed to convert two opportunities as A & T fumbled twice in its territory. Howard held firm on the Aggies' third possession, stopping A & T on downs at the Bison 30 to set up the winning score.
As most of the 5,000 fans at Alumni Stadium were thinking pass, Howard fullback Mel Sutton kept the final drive going with a 31-yard run down the right sidelines to put the Bison in A & T territory. Two incomplete passes and a busted play later, the interference call gave the Bison the break they needed.
Howard appeared primed for a rout as the Bison took the opening kickoff and drove 77 yards in six plays to a 7-0 lead. Singleton, who caught four passes today for 127 yards, had back-to-back receptions for 72 yards in that drive before sophomore fullback Jeff Owens scored from the seven.
Nichols (10 for 16 for 161 yards and one touchdown), however, threw three interceptions in the first half and reserve quarterback Ray Gray one. Although two of those turnovers resulted in A & T scores, the Bison only trailed by three at halftime.
"I thought it was our game to win after the first half," Keith said. "We had four turnovers and the score was only 10-7. We just weren't throwing well. They covered our receivers well and we were forcing it."
Sutton keyed a new-found rushing offense for Howard in the second half. The Bison had managed only 38 yards on the ground in the first two periods, but finished the game with 147. Well-timed passes accounted for another 167 yards.
The Aggies got their 436 yards despite the presence of two new players in the backfield. James Harris replaced freshman Steve Lynn at quarterback and tailback Danny Thomas played in place of Wayman Pitts, the Aggies' all-time leading rusher who quit the team Tuesday.