After playing South Carolina State even most of the the first half, Howard committed costly turnovers and infractions and executed poorly in the second half to lose, 28-7, in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game before 10,000 yesterday at Howard Stadium.
"The little mistakes keep getting us," said Bison Coach Joe Taylor, whose team dropped to 1-3, 1-1 in the MEAC. "You can't make these kinds of mistakes against a sorry team, but when you make them against a good team, this is what happens. We hurt ourselves."
Howard played extremely well in the first half, scoring once on a 28-yard pass play from Kenny Jones to Kevin Watkins but losing a 75-yard interception return by Harold Gilkey, which was nullified by a penalty.
But the Bulldogs responded with two touchdowns and a demoralizing 38-yard field goal by Al Gardiner with one second left in the half to take an 18-7 lead.
"That field goal was important," said South Carolina State Coach Bill Davis, whose team is ranked first in Division I-AA and is 4-0, 3-0 in the MEAC. "A late score before the half always has an extra effect on the other team. It deflates them psychologically and makes their job in the second half that much tougher."
South Carolina State was unable to move on its first possession of the second half, forcing Alonzo Braddy to punt from his own 26. But Howard return man Greg Pinkney bobbled the punt and deflected it into the arms of South Carolina State's Darrell McAllister, giving the Bulldogs the ball on Howard's 29.
Six plays later, South Carolina State quarterback Charles Glaze swept left and pitched out to Steve Cobb, who scored on a two-yard run for a 25-7 lead.
"That play may have hurt most of all," said Taylor. "We had just held them and we should have had good field position from the punt. But we just kept giving them chances to score."
"Special teams may be the most important part of our game," said Davis, whose team has won three straight MEAC championships. "You can do without a good offense or a good defense, but you have to have good special teams. They've been setting up touchdowns for us all year."
Howard's special teams were not impressive. In addition to bobbling the punt, Pinkney also failed to field a line-drive kickoff cleanly with 8:07 left in the game; he chased the ball across the mouth of the end zone before narrowly avoiding a safety and being tackled at the five. The kickoff and punt coverage was also weak, as South Carolina State's Barney Bussey returned two kickoffs for 44 yards and three punts for 14.
The Bulldogs dominated statistically, holding a 16-12 advantage in first downs and a 309-137 edge in rushing yards. South Carolina State also held a 321-250 advantage in total yards. Running back Frankie Darby led all rushers with 142 yards on 21 carries, and Cobb ran for two touchdowns.
The Bison did look impressive at times, and freshman quarterback Jones showed potential as a passer and a runner. Jones completed 12 of 30 passes for 147 yards, including a 42-yard pass to Watkins on a third-and-nine play in the third quarter.
Jones also ran well, leading the team with 82 yards on eight carries, and his 47-yard scramble on second and 10 in the third quarter set up Howard's last real scoring threat. Chased out of the pocket at midfield, Jones cut from left to right across the field and evaded four tacklers before being knocked out of bounds at the three.
But Jones slightly injured his right hand on the play and was replaced by senior Sandy Nichols. Nichols was sacked for a five-yard loss and then threw incomplete to Edwin Watts. Pass interference was called, giving Howard first and goal on the one, and Jones rejoined the lineup.
After two running plays up the middle failed to produce a score, Jones worked a timing pattern with Maurice Haynes over the middle and appeared to connect with the 6-foot-2 tight end for a touchdown. But the officials ruled Haynes failed to catch the ball with both feet in the end zone and Jones threw an incomplete pass on fourth down.