Four weeks ago, sophomore Eddie Hayes was a tight end on Howard University's football team. Last year, he was a defensive lineman. He was recruited as a fullback.
Today he played center, a fourth stringer who became a starter four weeks ago due to a succession of injuries. And he made the key block on fourth and goal from the one in the third quarter, enabling Ronnie Epps to score Howard's touchdown in a 7-3 victory over Morgan State in a steady rain at Hughes Stadium.
But it took a third-quarter goal-line stand to enable the Bison (4-6) to win their third straight, and fourth of their last five.
Morgan State (0-9) has lost 19 straight. Although both teams are members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, the game did not count in the standings because the Golden Bears will not become active football participants until next season.
The victory may have been costly for Howard, which will end its season next week at Delaware State. On its 61-yard, 12-play drive that ended with Epps' touchdown with 6:02 remaining in the third period, starting quarterback Lee DeBose bruised a knee. Replacement William Campbell retwisted a knee five plays later. Leon Brown, who was Howard's starter at the beginning of the season, finished up.
Howard was inside the Golden Bears' 30 three times in the first half, but lost two fumbles and Jon Nicolaisen badly missed a 46-yard field goal attempt.
With the rain taking away Howard's passing game (it passed only twice and completed neither) and making its kicking game shaky, Coach Willie Jeffries elected to go for a touchdown on fourth down in the scoreless game. That decision was not as much of a surprise as was the choice to run behind Hayes, who struggled early in his emergency conversion to an offensive lineman.
"In a situation like that, you probably should go for a field goal, but with the weather as it was, we wanted to minimize handling the ball," Jeffries said. "Eddie said he could do the job, so we ran a wedge behind the center and two guards (Pat Boyd on the left; Eric Moore on the right). He is maturing as a center. Two weeks ago, we might not have been able to run that play."
Hayes, who was Jeffries' neighbor when Jeffries coached Wichita State, easily admitted as much.
"Those first couple of weeks, people were coming through me like water through a sifter," said Hayes, who at 6 feet 1, 235 pounds, is outweighed by 40 pounds or more by many opposing linemen. "It has gotten better lately, and with those two big hogs next to me, it really was a good play."
Morgan, which is averaging 7.5 points per game, played most of today without its leading rusher, Alphonso Harris, who has a knee injury. The Golden Bears hurt themselves dearly with 10 penalties totaling 100 yards, but still had a chance to tie on their possession following Howard's touchdown.
Marco Kornegay (95 yards on 18 carries) took a pitch 45 yards for a first down at Howard's 14, and the Bears earned another first down at Howard's two. At that point, the Bison rallied with their best goal line stand of the season, stopping John Vorrice once and Kornegay twice. The Golden Bears settled for Jeff Green's 20-yard field goal.
Jeffries said the victory further convinced him of his team's progress since losing its first five games.
"Our team is developing the way I hoped it would develop," he said. "We are not making the mistakes we once did. From now on, we are going to be a tough football team to beat."