Sophomore fullback Ronnie Epps, who had lost his starting position and played sparingly the previous four games, rallied Howard's dormant offense in the fourth quarter yesterday and scored on a one-yard run with 7:23 remaining as the Bison defeated Norfolk State, 28-21, before an overflow crowd of 14,000 at Howard Stadium.
His touchdown ended a 58-yard drive in which he rushed 44 yards on five carries. The Spartans, 6-3 and ranked No. 13 in Division II, had rallied from a 21-7 halftime deficit to tie the game at 21 three minutes earlier on Ken Dickens' six-yard run.
The victory was the second in three games for Howard (2-6), which was coming off a 40-14 loss to North Carolina A&T. The Bison scored on three plays of 69 yards or more, including two by sophomore Curtis Chappell.
He returned the opening kickoff 96 yards for one touchdown and gave Howard a 21-7 lead with 3:31 to go in the first half when he teamed with quarterback Lee DeBose for a 96-yard pass play, the longest in Howard history.
The Spartans have given up 18 touchdowns this season, 12 on plays of 65 yards or more.
Although Chappell helped Howard early, it was Epps who sparked the Bison after the game's momentum had swung to Norfolk State.
"The coach was telling me I wasn't playing up to par," said Epps, who showed no effects of an early-season knee injury. "I was pretty down the past few weeks, and I didn't know when I would get another chance. But last night, we had a team meeting and I said, 'If I have to bite, kick or scratch, I am going to get some yards in this game.' "
He finished with 49 yards rushing and 16 more on a screen pass. He started the winning drive with runs of 18 and 12 yards. A 16-yard third-down pass from DeBose to Tony McClain gave the Bison a first down at the Spartans' 15. On the next play, Epps dragged three defenders in earning a first down at the one.
"We needed a change," Jeffries said of his using Epps. "The plays Ronnie ran we had practiced all week. The holes were there today, but we hadn't been hitting them. We always considered Ronnie the best we have at hitting a hole."
Chappell, who returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against Bethune-Cookman earlier this year, said, "We caught them sleeping" on his return yesterday along the left sideline. John Javis made a key block around midfield.
His touchdown reception, which eclipsed the 1973 Michael Banks-to-Eddie Richardson school record of 89 yards, came on a unusual call by Jeffries, who has played conservatively in similar situations this season.
"This week, we decided we were going to go out and win this game," he said. "We had been waiting for that play."
In the last four minutes, the Spartans drove to Howard's 36 as Willie Gillus, the No. 2-rated quarterback in Division II, went exclusively to the air. Earlier he had thrown touchdown passes of 18 yards to Rodney Gore and nine yards to Brian Hawkins.