As Howard's Jon Nicolaisen lined up for a 20-yard field goal with 17 second remaining and Howard trailing Virginia State by two points, the thoughts of many Bison players flashed back to a field goal he missed from a similar spot against Bethune-Cookman earlier this year.
"I was praying and I told everyone else to pray," said tailback Richard Vickers. "I had no doubts about his ability, but it seemed like a lifetime. That kick was like living and dying."
Nicolaisen's kick from the right hash mark sailed through the goal posts and Howard won, 22-21, breaking an 11-game losing streak before a homecoming crowd of 14,100 at Rogers Stadium.
Nicolaisen earlier had kicked field goals of 25 and 39 yards. His last one improved Howard to 1-4.
The Trojans (2-4), who led by 14-9 at the half after intercepting Howard starter Leon Brown four times, managed only three first downs in the second half.
Vickers and his roommate, quarterback Brian Sloan, were the keys.
Sloan lost his starting position to Brown this week and Vickers had played sparingly all year. They entered the game together after Virginia State took a 21-12 lead with six minutes left in the third quarter on Paul Thomas' recovery of Brown's fumble in the end zone.
Sloan immediately engineered an 80-yard, 12-play drive that ended with Vickers scoring from the 11 to cut the lead to 21-19 with 45 seconds to go in the quarter.
Sloan had runs of nine and 12 yards on the drive that set up Nicolaisen's final field goal.
"I know I missed one from the same spot against Bethune," said Nicolaisen about the game the Bison went on to lose, 19-6. "But I went out there this time like I do every time. From the moment I hit it, I knew we won the game."
Howard had done as much as it could most of the day to lose.
The Bison lost two fumbles and Brown, a freshman who was five of 15 for 67 yards, threw five interceptions. State scored twice in the first half as a result of interceptions by John Greene.
Greene, who later intercepted a third, picked off a pass by Brown to give State possession at the Howard 18 late in the first quarter. Three plays later, freshman Calvin Graham scored from the six for a 7-3 Trojan lead.
Greene's second interception gave State possession again at the Howard 18. The Trojans' first play was a flare pass from Sam Taylor to Von Allen that went for a touchdown with 8:20 to go in the half.
Freshman Harvey Reed cut the deficit to 14-9 on a one-yard run with 2:51 left in the half.
After Sloan and Vickers entered the game in the third quarter, the Bison looked like a different team. Sloan rushed seven times for 49 yards. Vickers, who had carried only 25 times for 63 yards coming into the game, finished with 51 yards on 10 carries.
"We had been talking on the sidelines that we had to go in and spark the team," Sloan said.
The victory was the first for Coach Willie Jeffries at Howard.
"Today, Brian Sloan saved us," Jeffries said. "It was very shocking the way Leon Brown played. From now on, we are going with Brian Sloan."