Howard's nightmarish season ended on a wonderful note yesterday -- an awakening, Coach Willie Jeffries and his team hope, to a better future.
The Bison capitalized on five turnovers and totaled 492 yards as they rewarded what faithful fans remained with a 47-13 victory over Morgan State at Howard Stadium.
The Bison concluded with a 2-8 record in winning their first game at home since beating the same opponent in 1982. Morgan State, which started 14 freshmen, ended at 0-11 and, in its own nightmare, outscored for the season by 423-85.
Several Howard freshmen were outstanding. Tailback Harvey Reed gained 103 yards rushing on 11 carries and scored two touchdowns before leaving in the third period with a separated shoulder. Tailback Ronnie Epps had 122 yards on 16 carries. Quarterback Leon Brown completed eight of 13 passes for 160 yards, with touchdowns of five yards to Maurice Haynes and 47 to Kevin Watkins.
"We got good play from both the offense and defense for four quarters," said first-year Bison Coach Jeffries, who couldn't help but smile. "We had hoped to win this last one to give the freshmen something to build on during the winter. Hey, it was good for me, too."
Despite the records, Howard-Morgan State is one of most intense rivalries (Morgan leads, 32-15-3) among black colleges, so there was every reason to expect a hard-hitting, emotional game.
Both teams lost the ball on their first possession before the Bison began taking advantage of the youthful Bears. Brown, pitching to Reed on option plays or hitting Haynes with short passes, guided his team 80 yards on 14 plays for a 7-0 lead. Erik Green covered the final seven yards on a run around the right side. Jon Nicolaisen's kick was good and Howard led with 3:06 to play in the period.
Howard stretched its lead to 13-0 when Brown threw his second touchdown pass of the season, to Haynes from five yards out with 13:35 left in the second quarter. "I think he's starting to come of age," Jeffries said of Brown.
Morgan, which gave up 76 points to Delaware, threw a minor scare into the Bison when it scored twice in the second period to tie the game.
"Morgan made two big plays and caught us," Jeffries said. "We had men in the right place but he (Reginald Burgess) made two athletic plays."
Burgess beat the Bison secondary to catch touchdown passes of 17 and nine yards from freshman Dexter Foreman.
But Brown then came up with two gems, the second one demoralizing the Bears. Brown kept a Howard drive alive by eluding a rush and dropped off a screen pass to Epps, good for a 26-yard gain to the Bears' 40. Reed then took a pitch from Brown, got outside, juked the final defender and gave Howard a 20-13 lead with four minutes to play in the half.
"The coach told me to start opening my eyes when I run," said Reed, who ended as the Bison's leading rusher with 603 yards. "He told me just relax instead of looking for the hit."
After an interception by Earl Kinney, Howard needed only three plays to cover 75 yards -- a run by Reed, a pass to Epps and, 14 seconds before intermission, Brown threw 47 yards to Watkins to push the Bison ahead, 27-13.
"Confidence," Brown said. "I've started the last few games and I'm really getting comfortable with the offense. I've been throwing the ball pretty good lately."
Philip Lee, who had several key tackles and a sack, picked off another pass by Foreman at the Howard 43. Four plays later, Reed raced in from seven yards out for a 34-13 lead in the third quarter.
Jeffries used just about every player on the team in the final period. Linebackers Lee and Martin Brown led a defense that held the Bears to 107 total yards (220 for the game) in the second half.
And Brian Sloan, the early-season starter at quarterback, threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Watkins and scrambled in from 14 yards to close out the scoring and give the Bison 47 reasons to celebrate.