Delaware State Coach Joe Purzycki doesn't crack a smile when he says fullback Gene Lake is good enough to play in the NFL. After yesterday, Howard's football team might be inclined to agree.
Lake, a 25-year-old junior who served in the military, rushed for a school-record 232 yards and scored six touchdowns as the Hornets dealt Howard a crushing 45-7 defeat before 5,000 at Howard Stadium.
Delaware State, hoping to gain a Division I-AA playoff berth, had 477 total yards, 425 rushing, as it improved to 7-2 overall and 3-1 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Once again, Howard (1-7, 0-4) took itself out of the game early with crucial mistakes. The Bison had 283 yards total offense, but had two punts blocked, lost three fumbles and had one interception.
"We thought we might be able to outscore them," said Howard Coach Willie Jeffries. "Their defense isn't up to par with their offense and we felt if we could throw early and get some points, we could stay with them.
"But our offense had some breakdowns and our kicking game wasn't good today. We wanted to control the ball and keep Lake and that 82 (John Taylor) off the field."
Keeping Lake, who is 5 feet 11 and weighs 215 pounds, out of the end zone was Howard's biggest problem. He ran through large holes opened by his huge, experienced offensive line. When there was no hole, Lake made one.
He showed his strength on his first touchdown when he shook off safety Oliver Bridges and raced 25 yards for a 7-0 lead with 6:20 left in the first period. The visitors took over when Bertram Chew broke through and blocked Jon Nicolaisen's punt.
Howard put together its only consistent drive on its next possession, going from its 26 to the Hornet six. But the Hornets held and Nicolaisen came on to kick a field goal. His 27-yard kick was nullified when Howard was penalized for illegal procedure. Nicolaisen then missed from 32 yards.
"The official made a mistake on the call and he admitted it later," Jeffries said. "He thought we had only six players on the line of scrimmage because we have a different setup for our kicks. Had we made it 7-3 there, it might have been a better game."
Still, the missed opportunity seemed to drain the Bison of emotion. The rest of this game belonged to the Hornets and Lake.
Delaware State scored three times within a 6 1/2-minute span in the second period to take a comfortable 25-0 lead at intermission. Lake, who had 119 yards on 16 carries in the first half, scored on one-yard plunges sandwiched around a superb, leaping catch for a 13-yard score by Taylor.
"Howard used a lot of defenses and we just took what they gave us," said Lake, who will sit down with Purzycki at the end of the season to decide whether to return for his senior season. "I ran extra hard and tried not to tackle because that field was very, very hard."
Howard couldn't get anything going. Freshman quarterback Leon Brown completed 10 of 21 passes for 116 yards, seven of the completions going to Maurice Haynes late in the game.
In between Howard punts, Lake, the leading rusher in conference history (17 touchdowns this season), continued to run well. He completed a 94-yard, 11-play drive with a four-yard run up the middle to give his team a commanding, 31-0 lead with 7:47 to play. He finished his one-man show with another four-yard touchdown as the third period ended and then a tackle-breaking 74-yard dash midway in the last quarter.
"Hey, we enjoy blocking for him because he runs hard and get that extra yard," said 6-2, 270-pound tackle Matthew Horace. "We were a little lethargic in the first period, maybe overconfident a bit. We didn't think there was anything to get real excited over but we played much better later on."
Howard avoided a shutout when Eric Green scored on a three-yard run in the final two minutes.
"It's tough getting the guys up but they won't quit," said Jeffries. "We've been having good practices and I think we can win our next two and go out on a winning note. This one is over."