North Carolina A&T turned in its finest overall effort of the season yesterday to spoil Howard's homecoming, 23-7, before 10,500 at RFK Stadium.
Going into the game, A&T looked like Howard's mirror image. Both teams were 0-2 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, 1-4 overall and had been vulnerable to the big plays. But A&T followed a different script yesterday.
Except for Howard freshman tailback Harvey Reed, who ran up the sideline for a school record 100-yard kickoff return, the Bison were stymied. Howard managed a season-low 98 yards total offense and committed five turnovers.
A&T took advantage of Howard's lackadaisical play and mistakes, and despite missing three field goals, dominated the game.
Freshman quarterback Alan Hooker kept the Bison off balance by mixing up his plays with short, ball-control passes. He completed 18 of 25 for 197 yards and one touchdown.
"We didn't do anything good today," said Bison Coach Willie Jeffries. "They didn't surprise us at all. They came out in the same defense they had been using (allowing a conference low of 246 yards rushing per game) and we couldn't get anything going. Our offense was a step slower on every play and I can't explain that. We had a good week of practice and felt we had a very good chance of winning today."
A&T had other ideas right from the start. Hooker completed five short passes, including an eight-yard scoring pass to Herbert Harbison that completed a 16-play 79-yard drive on the Aggies first possession.
Howard lost three fumbles in its territory in the first two periods, but all the Aggies got was frustration as Willie Levett missed field goals of 31 and 27 yards. The other Aggie possession as a result of a turnover resulted in an interception by Howard's Conrad Austin at his two.
But Hooker kept his team going. Following a short Howard punt, Hooker moved his team 38 yards in four plays. Karey Gee ran up the middle for 13 yards and a touchdown to make it 13-0 with 3:28 left in the first half.
"The way we were moving the ball, I knew we would score some time," said Hooker. "I'm a computer major and I equate playing quarterback to that. You try a little of this and a little of that until it works. A lot of things we tried today worked very well."
Reed then gave the Bison crowd its only reason to cheer with his spectacular kickoff return. Jon Nicolaisen's kick cut the lead to 13-7.
Levett missed another field goal from 37 yards in the final seconds and Howard had to feel very lucky.
"I told the guys we could have been down 30-0 at the half," Jeffries said. "Our defense played well enough to win, but our lack of offense kept our backs to the wall all game."
Bison quarterback Brian Sloan, who had a sore back and was replaced by Leon Brown, said, "I guess I have to take the blame. I am the quarterback and it's my job to get the offense moving. After winning last week (beating Virginia State, 22-20) and having a good week, it's disappointing to come out and play so poor."
Sloan sat out the second half and watched his teammates play even worse. The result of Howard's six second-half possessions was a fumble, an interception and four punts. Brown completed only three of 13 for 11 yards, and the Bison netted only 28 yards.
Howard's defense, on the field for more than 37 minutes, gave ground grudgingly but eventually tired. The Aggies opened the final period by going from their 20 to the Howard 27. Levett then made a 44-yard field goal and A&T was up, 16-7, with eight minutes left.
"Willie was a little upset with his missed kicks in the first half (he also missed a conversion) because he thought he made the first one," said Aggie Coach Ike Forte. "Our offense and defense both played very well and didn't allow Howard to gain any momentum. We should have scored more in the first half but . . . . " Forte had no reason to complain. His team gained 405 total yards and had three times as many first downs as the Bison. In addition, the Aggies had only two turnovers, both deep in Howard territory.
As if Howard wasn't embarrassed enough, Hooker added the final touches on a near perfect afternoon when he got outside a rush and threw a touchdown pass to a wide-open Alvin Grier. The play covered 65 yards and completed a rather depressing homecoming for Howard.