It's been a long time since the chorus of "I'm so glad, I'm from Howard U." resounded at a Bison football game, but that was the tune a homecoming crowd of 13,500 was singing as the clock ran down yesterday in Howard's 17-7 victory over Virginia State at RFK Stadium.
The Bison, who had lost their first five this year and had won at home only once since 1982, used an 85-yard third-quarter touchdown run by Harvey Reed and a nine-yard touchdown by freshman quarterback Lee DeBose to take a 17-0 lead.
The victory enabled the Bison to avoid their worst start since 1929, when they lost their first seven.
Howard, which held the Trojans (3-3-1) to nine net yards rushing on 31 attempts, lost its bid for its first shutout in 59 games when Sam Taylor, who is from Surrattsville High School, threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Michael Davis with 2:40 remaining.
"I couldn't believe the way all the fellows backed me up today," said Howard defensive tackle Curtis Stokes, who had five sacks. "We were using a bit of an experiment that was almost like a 3-4. The coaches wanted to use me more as a pass rusher today because I am better at that than I am against the run. (Defensive linemates) Billy Dores and Reggie Miles crushed the pocket and I was able to come right up the middle."
Stokes, a junior, said he was glad the experiment worked for the homecoming game.
"This is my third year here, and it was the first time we won homecoming. It was probably one of my best games ever, but I hope I have better games. This game, though, may change things around for all of us."
The game was scoreless at halftime as Kerry Martin of the Trojans missed a 39-yard field goal and Jon Nicolaisen missed a 37-yarder for Howard. Nicolaisen's miss was his eighth straight.
Reserve fullback Erik Green (50 yards on seven carries) sparked the Bison on their first series of the second half, but the Bison had to settle for Nicolaisen's 30-yard field goal after DeBose was sacked by H.D. Woodson graduate James Ward on third and five at Virginia State's six.
On the second play of Howard's next possession, DeBose, playing despite a twisted knee that minimized his practice time all week, called an audible. He pitched to Reed (118 yards on 14 attempts), who stiff-armed safety Kevin Hall and went down the left sideline for an 85-yard touchdown.
"The coaches had told me to look for that type of situation," DeBose said of the stacked strong side Virginia State was showing. "I changed from a pitch right to a pitch left. Their guy came right up to me like the coaches said he would and I just pitched it off to Harvey."
Howard's final touchdown was set up by Doug Dickerson's 22-yard punt return and a personal foul that gave Howard first down on the Trojans' nine. DeBose kept on the first play and went in standing for the score with 7:25 left.
The Bison played well on defense for their second consecutive game, although last week they had only a 12-7 loss in the final 46 seconds to Winston-Salem to show for it.
Howard had yielded an average of 442 total yards in its first five games, including 228 rushing. Yesterday, the Bison took away Division II Virginia State's running game by holding its top rusher, Von Allen, to 16 yards on nine carries.
In addition, freshman cornerback Spanky Johnson intercepted two passes and broke up what could possibly have been a 76-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Hamilton. Johnson was beaten long, but caught up to Hamilton in time to make a one-hand deflection with Howard leading by 10-0.