It was Willie Jeffries Appreciation Day at Howard University yesterday, and the coach received various presents, plaques and proclamations. The best gift of all was something he's yearned for throughout his four years with the Bison -- a pass defense.
Ranked No. 20 in Division I-AA, Howard showed a solid pass rush supported by increased blitzes and other aggressive plays from its usually conservative secondary and defeated Norfolk State, 43-3, in a nonleague game before 23,589 at Greene Stadium.
Harvey Reed, despite playing on a sore ankle, rushed for 149 yards and scored touchdowns of five, seven and 17 yards. Norfolk State, which has lost four straight and is 3-6, never figured out how to stop him.
In winning for the 13th time in their last 14 games, the Bison (6-1) held Division II Norfolk State to 80 net yards passing, limited four Spartans quarterbacks to a completion percentage of 44 and intercepted three passes. Howard, which had five sacks, had been allowing 220 yards passing per game.
"Everybody's focus all week was on the special day for Coach Jeffries," said cornerback Conrad Austin, a fifth-year senior from DeMatha High School who had two interceptions. "As a secondary, we were confident we could have a big day. We dedicated this game to Coach Jeffries because of all he has done for us."
Jeffries, who seemed quite embarrassed by the pregame and postgame festivities, would probably accept more days in his honor if they would produce a similar defensive effort.
Junior college transfers Charles Gibb and Ronald Wilson, who in the past few weeks have worked their way into the lineup at outside linebacker and defensive tackle, respectively, inspired new effort on the pass rush.
Linebacker Walter Gaskins and safety Willie (Spanky) Johnson also helped lend aggressive, gambling pass coverage.
"Our defense might have been sharper than our offense today," said Jeffries. "We had a pass rush, when we blitzed we got to their quarterback about 75 percent of the time and our secondary played well. We finally played a complete defensive game."
The defense was the pace-setter from the opening minutes. On Norfolk State's third play, Michael Clarington sacked Spartans quarterback Maurice Lawrence, causing a fumble that Gaskins recovered at the Norfolk State 29. Four plays later, Ronnie Epps scored on a one-yard run.
On the second play of Norfolk State's ensuing possession, Austin made a diving interception at the Norfolk 41.
Late in the period, David Westbrook batted down a third-and-five pass by James Barnes, a graduate of H.D. Woodson High School, who had relieved Lawrence.
After a punt, Howard drove 97 yards on 14 plays with Reed's five-yard run on a pitch to the left making it 13-0.
Howard's James Moses tipped a pass that was intercepted by Thomas Jones midway in the second quarter. That set up a 56-yard drive that gave Howard a 21-0 lead on Reed's seven-yard touchdown.
Austin's second interception, on Norfolk State's third play of the second half, was followed by a 51-yard pass from Lee DeBose to Derrick Faison and a five-yard touchdown run by Fred Killings for a 33-3 advantage with 9:19 left in the third period.
"It's been a comedy of errors for us all year," said Norfolk State Coach Willie Bailey. "We wanted to run the ball consistently today and throw only when we wanted to, but we made some mistakes and got behind early. Then we had to throw more so we wouldn't get blown out of there right away, but that allowed them to do different things defensively. We were somewhat surprised they blitzed like they did."
The Howard secondary's loose coverage has been blamed for leaving receivers open. Yesterday, there was an evident difference.
"We passed freely on them when we had time," said Spartans split end Eric Still, who caught three passes for 48 yards. "The problem was we rarely had time. I was open a lot; the quarterbacks just didn't have time to find me."
Howard's defensive coordinator Ben Blacknall has insisted his unit is improving weekly.
"I thought the difference today was that we kept our concentration for the entire game," he said. "Sometimes, we would come out, have a good series or two, and then lose concentration. We told our players at the beginning of the season that if we were going to be a championship team, the defense had to be better than it had been. We have a little experience and understanding now. I hope this was our real defense."
Norfolk St. 0 3 0 0 3 Howard 7 14 12 10 43
H -- Epps 1 run (Harvell kick)
H -- Reed 5 run (kick failed)
H -- Reed 7 run (Johnson pass from DeBose)
NS -- FG Bridgeport 39
H -- Reed 17 run (kick failed)
H -- Killings 5 run (kick failed)
H -- FG Harvell 29
H -- Javis 7 run (Harvell kick)
A -- 23,589 Norfolk St. Howard First downs 17 24 Rushes-yards 41-132 59-344 Passing yards 80 104 Return yards 157 18 Passing 8-18-3 4-9-0 Punts-average 3-38 3-39 Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-0 Penalties-yards 10-87 6-53 Time
RUSHING -- Norfolk St.: Miles 14-60, Gallop 3-6, Crenshaw 1-3, Greenhow 3-11, Lawrence 2-minus 7, Barnes 5-
PASSING -- Norfolk St.: Barnes 8-17-2, 80 yards, Lawrence 0-1-1, 0. Howard: DeBose 4-9-0, 104.
RECEIVING -- Norfolk St.: Still 3-48, Miles 2-19, Tillman 1-4, Barlow 2-9. Howard: J. Johnson 1-21, Epps 2-