Sandy Nichols, his team's undisputed leader in pride and courage, joined the game in the second half and rallied Howard University to a 22-14 victory over Delaware State in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game yesterday at Howard Stadium.
Nichols, who could barely throw 30 yards because of a badly bruised right shoulder, was in obvious pain. Nevertheless, he scored on one- and nine-yard runs and threw a sidearmed, wobbling, 29-yard pass to Richard Vickers for the clinching touchdown with 1:32 left in the game to end a three-game Bison losing streak.
Starting the second half in relief of freshman Edwin Watts (three of nine for 26 yards and one interception), Nichols completed seven of 15 passes for 101 yards and rushed for another 67 yards.
"I've got lots and lots of tape on it (shoulder) but it still hurts," said Nichols, grimacing as he struggled to take off his shoulder pads. "The deep throws took a lot out of me. I was just trying to throw it 25 or 30 yards and hope the guys would run under it. I knew I was taking a chance running the ball, too, but I'm no coward. I give 100 percent when I play. The offense was under pressure and we had to prove we have good players and can score."
Nichols, his teammates and a crowd of 6,700 couldn't relax until the final gun sounded. State drove from its 20-yard line to the Howard 10 before running out of time.
On the game's final play, safety Doug Jones fought through Hornet blockers and jarred the ball loose from tailback Eldridge Comer on a well-set up screen pass. The ball fell incomplete and Howard (2-4 overall, 1-3 in the MEAC) had the victory. The Hornets, playing without Coach Joe Purzycki, whose father died yesterday morning, lost their fifth straight game to Howard and fell to 1-4 and 1-3.
DSU scored on its first possession, Comer going into the end zone on a one-yard run to complete an 18-play, 73-yard drive. The Hornets had nearly four times as many yards as Howard in the first half but blew several good scoring chances and had to settle for a 7-0 lead.
"I was just hoping we could hang in there in the first half and Sandy could come in and make the difference," said Howard Coach Floyd Keith, who has come under criticism after losing back-to-back games to South Carolina State and Florida A&M by a combined score of 112-3.
"I knew Sandy couldn't go two halves. Watts did a fantastic job for a freshman starting his first game. I went to Sandy and he did the job."
Nichols, throwing mostly short out patterns to his wide receivers and dump-offs to his backs, guided Howard 76 yards on its first possession of the second half. On first and goal from the one, Nichols kept the ball for Howard's first touchdown in 10 periods. Duke Amayo's kick was wide and the Bison still trailed, 7-6, with 9:43 left.
But the Hornets went 70 yards to take a 14-6 lead. Rod Lester evaded a heavy Bison rush, got a bit of help when an official took two Howard defenders out of the play and threw back across field to Doug Picott, who easily scored from 21 yards out.
In all, Comer gained 130 yards on 20 carries for the Hornets and Picott got 92 in 24 carries.
But Nichols kept Howard going. He ran when he saw openings and threw when he didn't. A roughing the passer penalty on fourth and three kept Howard's next drive alive, before Nichols went nine yards up the middle to score.
Howard went for the two-point conversion, but Nichols' attempted pass to Tracy Singleton was intercepted by Victor Heflin and Howard still trailed, 14-12, with a minute left in the third quarter.
Nichols figured in Howard's next scoring drive only because his fluttering pass was intercepted by Heflin, who was called for pass interference. Amayo came on later and kicked a 32-yard field to put the Bison up, 15-14, with 13 minutes left.
Nichols then put the finishing touches on a wonderful afternoon with a pass over the middle to Vickers. He broke a tackle en route to the end zone for the clinching touchdown with 1:32 remaining.