GREENSBORO, N.C., OCT. 24 -- Banners around Aggie Stadium predicted North Carolina A&T would turn today's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference football game with Howard into "The Big Payback," alluding to an overwhelming Bison victory last year. The Bison, however, had other ideas.
Tailback Harvey Reed, who did not practice all week and badgered coaches into letting him play on a sprained ankle, gained 152 yards on 24 carries and backup Fred Killings rushed for 107 yards and three touchdowns on nine attempts as Howard scored three times in the fourth period to win, 34-21.
The victory was the 12th in their last 13 games for the unranked Bison, who improved to 5-1 overall, 3-0 in the league. The nation's leading Division I-AA rushing team ran for 377 yards and 25 first downs, coming within two of the I-AA record for most rushing first downs in a game.
North Carolina A&T, whose quarterback Alan Hooker was last year's MEAC offensive player of the year and is considered one of the country's top I-AA passers, came out with a questionable game plan.
The Aggies elected to go with a time-consuming rushing attack against the MEAC's worst defense against the pass. A&T, which had won 10 of its previous 11 at home, fell victim to the strategy and fell virtually out of the conference race at 1-2 and 3-4 overall.
The defending MEAC champions had hoped this game could propel them to another title chance. The Aggies had looked forward to this game because their only conference loss last season was a 42-10 thrashing at Howard.
A&T led, 21-14, after Hooker threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Best with 21 seconds left in the third quarter. From that point, Reed and quarterback Lee DeBose, who sat out last week with a pulled groin and did not start today, took control.
"I kept telling the coaches I was okay, but I did have doubts about my ankle," said Reed, who entered the game as the nation's leading I-AA rusher with 147.6 yards per game. "I knew I could run straight ahead, but I couldn't make the cuts I usually do."
In the first half, the Aggies gave Reed little chance to make cuts as they clustered around the perimeter on Howard's option.
"It took me awhile to get my timing down," said Reed. "We were kind of ragged in the first half, but when Lee came in, we relaxed. And at halftime, we decided to base block and go right at them."
Reed rushed for 92 yards in the second half. He rushed for 50 yards on a 69-yard drive that ended with a 15-yard DeBose touchdown to tie the game at 21 with 11:39 remaining.
Reed's 25-yard run on a sprint draw was immediately followed by a 20-yard touchdown by Killings to make it 27-21 with 8:54 left. And after Howard held A&T again, Killings keyed an 87-yard drive with a 25-yard run and finished it with a 20-yard touchdown with 2:35 left.
"We were trying to take away the outside on Reed," said A&T Coach Mo Forte. "If they were going to beat us, we were going to make them beat us inside. We knew Harvey Reed had speed, but we didn't know how tough a runner he was breaking tackles.
"But when he ran inside late in the game, the holes were so big he could have run from here to Washington. We still don't know how tough he is because every time we hit him, he was already 10 or 15 yards off the line."
Howard Coach Willie Jeffries said he would have been content to use Reed sparingly, and he also hoped to do the same with DeBose. Jeffries surprisingly opened with John Javis at quarterback, brought DeBose into the game in the second quarter, but went back to Javis as DeBose's layoff made him appear a bit rusty.
With the scored tied, 14-14, the Bison had a chance to take a lead into the half. They had first and goal at the A&T 1 with 33 seconds left, but Javis fumbled trying to leap high over center Dwight Brunson.
"We gave him two plays to call, and since it was only a half-foot, all he had to really do was go down low and dig in," said Jeffries. "But he doesn't have much experience and didn't listen to us. I was mad, but I didn't yell at him too much because I knew I would need him to do some other things later."
Nor was Jeffries upset when the Aggies continually chose to hand off to Stoney Polite (78 yards on 16 carries) and Juan Jackson (42 yards and two touchdowns on nine).
Howard came into the game allowing 236 yards per game passing, and much of that was done by option teams who could not resist throwing against the Bison. But Hooker threw only 22 times, completing 13, for 136 yards.
"It surprised me, but we realized that even when they scored, they didn't want to do it quickly," said Jeffries. "They wanted to keep eating up time, but I was happy they were doing that."
Forte chose to run often in an attempt to keep his defense rested as much as possible.
"The problem wasn't that we didn't move the football, because we did move it," said Forte. "The problem was that we never stopped them. We weren't overpowered or overwhelmed, but to beat a good football team, you must play good defense and we just didn't do that in the second half." Howard 7 7 0 20 34 N.C. A&T 7 7 7 0 21
H -- Killings-15 run (Harvell kick)
A&T-Jackson 8 run (Gatson kick)
H -- Reed 14 run (Harvell kick)
A&T-Jackson 8 run (Gatson kick)
A&T-Best 8 pass Hooker (Gatson kick)
H -- DeBose 15 run (Harvell kick)
H -- Killings 20 run (kick failed)
H -- Killings 20 run (Harvell kick) Howard N.C. A&T First downs 30 17 Rushes-yards 57-377 44-176 Passing yards 44 136 Return yards 19 0 Passing 10-5-0 22-13-1 Punts-average 2-49.5 5-34.4 Fumbles-lost 4-2 0-0 Penalties-yards 4-37 8-55 T
A -- 10,500INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
RUSHING -- Howard: Javis 8-30, Killings 9-107, T. Johnson 6-40, Green 1-5, Reed 24-152, Epps 5-27, DeBose 5
PASSING -- Howard: Javis 2-3-0, 20 yards, DeBose 3-7-0, 24. N.C. A&T: Hooker 13-22-1, 136.
RECEIVING -- Howard: Faison 1-4, J. Johnson 2-24, Lamback 2-16. N.C. A&T: Sowell 4-51, J. Johnson 2-17, Bes