At Delaware State, it is simply referred to as "the game."

Athletic Director Nelson Townsend calls it "an embarrassment."

Dr. Ulysses S. Washington, director of the school's athletic council, said it is something he wants to forget.

Neil Lomax, who was the quarterback for the opposing team, Portland State, and who is now one of the best in the National Football League, remembers "it was so boring we could not wait to get out of there."

"The game" was played Nov. 8, 1980, in Portland, Ore. The final score: Home 105, Visitors 0.

But Joe Purzycki, who became coach at Delaware State the following year, said it was the best thing to happen to the Hornets' football program.

Purzycki has a case, because he has turned the Hornets into a team that should break into the NCAA Division I-AA top 15 next week if it wins Saturday at Howard. Delaware State (6-2) has already guaranteed itself a winning season, the first time it will have had back-to-back winning records since 1956-57.

This was no ordinary rebuilding program. Not only was Delaware State coming off NCAA probation for using ineligible players in 1978, Purzycki, 37, had never been a head coach at the college level. And he was about to become the first white head coach at a predominantly black institution.

Before taking the job, he told the interviewing board he had a four-year plan. He thought he could win two games the first year (the Hornets had gone 2-9 in 1980), four the second, six the third and eight the fourth. After a 2-9 first season, the team went 4-7 and 7-3-1.

The Hornets are coming off back-to-back victories over previously unbeaten Towson State and Central State of Ohio. Running out of a wing-T offense, they are averaging 512 yards a game and lead Division I-AA in rushing (356 yards a game). Gene Lake, a 5-foot-11, 215-pound junior, last week broke the division career rushing record of 2,548 yards set by Bobby Hammond at Morgan State.

Purzycki, who was 33-2 as a high school coach before becoming an assistant at the University of Delaware, almost didn't last through his first day at Delaware State. Breaking the racial barrier proved to be much tougher than he imagined for someone who grew up in integrated Newark.

"The feeling around campus was, 'Why was one of the few black coaching jobs in the country going to a white guy?' " recalled Purzycki. "The first day, I was devastated. There were picket lines and a sit-in at the Martin Luther King Auditorium. I walked through the picket line -- thank God they didn't know who I was. I came home and said to my wife Sharon, 'They're not ready for me.' I wanted to quit."

Encouragement came mostly from Townsend, who played a major role in hiring Purzycki. Townsend said he had been the first black teacher at an all-white high school in Pocomoke, Md., and had an idea what his new coach was going through.

Lomax, who threw an NCAA-record seven touchdown passes in the first quarter that day against Delaware State, said at the time that "was the worst football team I have ever seen."

Within weeks of that game, the school changed its commitment to football. It increased scholarships from 30 to 60, built a weight room, hired six full-time coaches, improved its stadium and gambled on Purzycki.

While battling the resentment ("I felt so isolated for a couple months it was like I was an island"), he looked everywhere he could for players. He found Lake in a Dover, Del., flag football league. Lake was 23 and an Army veteran. After this season, Purzycki said, he will talk to Lake about forgoing his senior year and turning pro before his age begins working against him.

Delaware State administrators say Purzycki now is probably the most popular figure in Dover. He says he is asked almost daily about his future. So far, he has refused to be interviewed for other jobs.

"I always felt I was somehow an experiment, but I never kidded myself -- I knew I was brought in here to create a football program," he said. "I don't want to leave. Delaware State took a chance on me and I want to repay the debt as best I can.

"I wouldn't leave here for a lateral move, but I'm no different than the guy from DuPont who gets a better offer elsewhere. If it's good for my career and my family, I'm going to have to listen."