Quarterback Sandy Nichols, the heart and soul of Howard's football team, suffered a shoulder injury early in the first period yesterday. He never came back, and neither could the Bison, who lost to Bethune-Cookman, 19-9.
The Wildcats sent Nichols to the sidelines with a sprained right shoulder. Without him, Howard's offense sputtered in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opener for both teams yesterday at Howard Stadium.
Bethune-Cookman also was missing a very important person. Head Coach Bobby Frazier did not make the trip after being suspended by the conference for five days on Wednesday. He was disciplined for using an ineligible player in Bethune's season-opener two weeks ago against Southern; Cy McClairen, the defensive coordinator, served as head coach.
Nichols, the offensive and passing leader in the conference, was tackled hard after gaining 11 yards on a scramble on Howard's initial possession with barely three minutes gone. He was in for two more plays before being replaced by Brian Sloan.
"I should be okay next week," said Nichols.
When Nichols departed, Howard's offense in the first half virtually disappeared. The Bison managed only 93 total yards compared to Bethune-Cookman's 209 and fell behind, 16-3, at intermission.
In the second half, Howard was stopped twice on fourth down deep in Bethune territory, at the seven late in the third quarter and the nine in the fourth.
"When you lose your quarterback in the first few minutes of the game, you're going to lose your edge," said Howard Coach Floyd Keith. "I'm not convinced Bethune is a good defensive team but they stopped us."
Keith was so infuriated by his team's lackluster home debut before 7,600 fans that he went into a clipboard and head phone-throwing tantrum just before the second half began. Much of his disgust was directed at a defense that allowed Bethune-Cookman (2-1) to score easily the first two times it had the ball.
Bethune quarterbacks Bernard Hawk and C.B. Collins shredded a good Bison secondary, completing eight of nine passes for 118 yards in the first half. Tailback Mike Revell also found lots of running room up the middle and gained 89 of his 100 total yards and scored both first-half touchdowns.
Revell ran over from four yards out to finish off a 12-play, 80-yard drive on Bethune's first possession. Dennis Daniels' kick was good and the Wildcats assumed a 7-0 lead with 6:54 elapsed on the clock.
Taking over at their 44 following a 38-yard punt by Duke Amayo, Hawk and Revell made most of the big plays during the 10-play drive for a second touchdown.
Sloan, a sophomore, did well, although this was the first game of the season in which he has played much. Once he settled down, he completed 11 of 22 passes, five of them to Tracy Singleton, for 214 yards, and ran for 61 more.
But Bethune's aggressive defense, keyed by middle linebacker Al Washington and 250-pound ends Lee Williams and Kavin Davis, did a good job of keeping the pressure on Sloan.
"We thought about devising a special defense to stop Singleton," said Cy McClairen. "But then we decided against it. We just attacked them up front and fortunately our early plays worked and we got on top quick."
Howard should have scored a touchdown but Singleton dropped a pass from Sloan in the end zone. Amayo then kicked a 31-yard field goal with 8:08 left before halftime to cut the lead to 14-3.
On Howard's next series, Bethune's defense didn't give an inch. Amayo never got off his punt from the nine yard line as Morgan blocked the kick and fell on the ball right at the back of the end line. The officials ruled Morgan didn't have possession and awarded the Wildcats a safety for a 16-3 lead.
Bethune got conservative in the second half and managed only a 33-yard field goal by Daniels to lead, 19-3, with 9:05 left in the third period.
Singleton caught a seven-yard touchdown pass from Sloan to close out the scoring with two minutes left, but it was far too late.