For 25 minutes tonight, Howard and powerful nemesis South Carolina State played to a scoreless tie. But the inspired play of the Bison quickly became a fleeting memory. In the next 35 minutes State scored 50 points, Howard none.

By halftime, South Carolina State had turned a punt return and two interceptions into 17 points. With starting quarterback Sandy Nichols sitting out the game with a shoulder injury, Howard had little offensive continuity in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game.

Howard quarterbacks completed only seven of 27 passes and had four intercepted. The Bison (1-3, 0-2 in the MEAC) also fumbled five times, losing two. Defensively, Howard continued to have problems against the run, yielding 283 yards.

It was the ninth straight time and 10th in the last 12 meetings that Howard has lost to State.

"I thought they were beatable," said Howard Coach Floyd Keith. "The kids didn't quit, that's why it hurts. They fought the whole game. We wanted to mix it up but the offense just didn't contribute. We had that one drive. If we put the ball in . . . who knows? But we didn't do it."

That situation came up after Jeff Wise's fumble recovery gave the Bison a first down at the State 12 with less than a minute to play in the first quarter. Three plays later, George Bradley intercepted a pass by Brian Sloan (five of 20 for 86 yards).

Playing without starting running backs Anthony Reed (ankle sprain) and Henry Odom (pulled thigh muscle), the Bulldogs (2-1, 2-2) had capable reserves, the best in the group being Mitchell Graves, who had 118 yards on 21 carries and a four-yard touchdown.

"I was just trying to fill in the best I could," said Graves, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior, who had run only one play from scrimmage this season. "I know I can run the ball and the sudden work didn't bother me at all. The line blocked and opened some good holes."

The line also blocked well for quarterback Desmond Gaston, who scored twice on one-yard sneaks and threw an 18-yard scoring pass to tight end Andre Charlton.

State kicker Al Gardner missed two second-quarter field goals before Charlton broke the scoreless tie. A 22-yard punt return by Zach Thomas gave the Bulldogs the ball at the Howard 33. Four plays later, Gaston found Charlton on a crossing pattern for the touchdown. Gardner's kick made it 7-0 with 4:55 left in the half.

On Howard's next possession, Sloan's pass was intercepted by Alan Neal and returned to the Howard nine. Howard's defense gave ground grudgingly but Gaston scored from a yard out and State led, 14-0.

Sloan, pressured now, was rushing his throws. Myles Darling jumped in front of a Bison receiver and two other Bulldogs to intercept Sloan's pass on a first-down play.

Darling returned the ball to the Howard 18. Gardner kicked a 31-yard field goal for the 17-0 halftime lead. "I truly felt we'd come out the second half and play with the same tenacity we showed in the first half," Keith said. "But the defense was worn down."

Whatever fortitude the Bison had left disappeared when Thomas returned the second-half kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown.

State turned two more Bison mistakes into points later in the period. Sloan was intercepted for the fourth time and Gerald Foggie scored from a yard to run the score to 31-0, with 8:30 left in the quarter.

Keith than replaced Sloan with freshman Edwin Watts.

Watts, who said he had charted plays so long he was ready to play, fumbled a snap that was recovered by State at the Bison 19. Gaston scored five plays later and State led, 37-0.

State also scored on the final play, when freshman Jacob Rhames threw a 23-yard pass to James Ealy. [TABLE OMITTED] INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING--Howard: Sutton 15-71, Watts 4-23, Sloan 6-18, McGlone 6-14, Vickers 5-8. South Carolina State: Graves 21-118, Fogie 11-69, Darby 7-60, Gatson 5-9, Bostic 2-7, Triplett 4-6, Burgess 2-3, Hickman 2-2, Green 1-minus 3.

PASSING--Howard: Sloan 5-20-4, 86 yards; Watts 2-7-0, 26. South Carolina State: Gatson 3-11-0, 33; Green 0-1-0, 0; Rhanes 2-2-0, 30.

RECEIVING--Howard: Singleton 4-83, Sutton 2-25, Dunlap 1-4. South Carolina State: Ealy 2-30, Charlton 1-18, Thomas 1-11, Haggray 1-4.