LOS ANGELES, SEPT. 2 -- Howard University, which last year relied almost entirely on its defense, used a much-improved offense and just enough defense when needed today to defeat Southern University, 26-21, in the second annual Los Angeles Football Classic before 46,835 at the Coliseum.
Junior cornerback Walter Price intercepted a pass at the Howard 4-yard line with 1:22 left to stop Southern's final drive in the season opener for both teams.
Howard quarterback Donald Carr completed 13 of 23 for a career-best 198 yards and ran for 58 yards and a touchdown. James (J.J.) Carpenter rushed for two Bison touchdowns and caught six passes for 84 yards.
For the Bison, it was the second significant nonleague victory over prestigious Southwestern Athletic Conference opponents under second-year coach Steve Wilson.
Last season, when Howard finished a surprising 8-3, it upset Grambling in the Meadowlands, 6-0, in a game where Carr also starred, scoring the only touchdown on a 45-yard run.
"I think this was bigger than beating Grambling," said Price. "L.A. has never seen Howard football before. A guy was watching us at practice yesterday and said to me, 'All you have at Howard is doctors and lawyers. You can't play football.' . . . Now, a lot of people have seen that Howard can play football."
Howard's defense showed holes today, allowing Southern quarterback Nathaniel Harrison, the game's most valuable player, to throw for 233 yards and three touchdowns. But the Bison constantly pressured him, particularly defensive end Gary Willingham.
On Price's interception, Willingham, who had two of Howard's eight sacks, hit Harrison as he was throwing.
Intended receiver Cornell Johnson "was open, but the guy hit me right in the chest as I was letting it go," said Harrison. "I was laying on the ground and I knew the ball was wobbling and I just said, 'Oh my God.' "
Price blamed himself for the six-yard touchdown pass from Harrison to Larry Benton that made it 26-21 with 7:36 remaining. "I wanted to make up for that, but I also thought they would be coming at me on that last drive because they hadn't thrown on my side too much all game," he said. "I think they were waiting to catch me sleeping."
Howard finished No. 1 last year in Division I-AA total defense and scoring defense, but its offense struggled much of the season.
If anything, today showed the offense, and particularly Carr, are much more comfortable in the pro-style sets installed last year by Wilson.
"Last year, people felt our offense was stagnant, but we felt like we had to stick with it," said Wilson. "We knew Donald Carr was a good athlete. The difference in him is that he is now making good decisions."
Howard took a 7-0 lead on a one-yard run by fullback Varick Bayina, a junior transfer from Eastern Kentucky, with 10:52 left in the first period. Howard's first possession was extended after a Cedric Rawls punt bounced off Southern's William Gage downfield and was recovered by Howard's Emmitt Smith.
The Bison did not allow Southern to cross midfield until 5:57 remained in the first half. A Howard mistake fueled that drive.
On third and 20 from the Southern 21, two Howard defenders hit a Jaguars receiver downfield, although Harrison's pass clearly seemed overthrown for all three. Pass interference was called, giving Southern a first down on its 36. With 4:48 left in the half, Harrison scrambled left to avoid a heavy rush. He pulled up and threw a strong pass across his body to running back Barry Kimbrough, who was wide open in the middle of the end zone to tie the game at 7.
Carr led Howard 67 yards in nine plays on its next possession to take a 13-7 lead. The key play was a 17-yard catch by Carpenter for a first down at the 2. On the next play, Carpenter put his shoulder down, bounced off three defenders and scored.
Only 37 seconds remained in the half, but the Jaguars were not content to run out the clock.
On their first play, Harrison lofted a long, high pass down the right sideline for junior wide receiver Brian Thomas. Howard had two men in the area, and senior safety Eric Gore seemed in position to break up the play. Gore elected to take a wild swipe at the ball -- and missed.
The ball landed in Thomas's hands around the 20. He easily made it to the end zone for a 63-yard touchdown reception and a 14-13 Southern lead.
Only 1:15 had expired in the second half when Howard went ahead, 19-14, with a five-play, 75-yard drive. Carr ran 11 yards, after making two fake handoffs, for the touchdown.
Carpenter's six-yard run with 28 seconds left in the third quarter increased the lead to 26-14.
Although Harrison caused problems for Howard's defense, the Bison still were strong against the run, allowing only 66 yards rushing.
Howard's offense produced an encouraging 396 yards. Sophomore Ryan Heathcock, moved from tailback to fullback this season because of his blocking ability, rushed for 65 yards and caught three passes for 54.
"Everybody said our defense won't be as good as it was last year," said Willingham. "But we don't have to be the No. 1 defense in the country if we are generating some offense. . . . We don't have to rely only on our defense this year. When we scored that touchdown on the first drive, I just loved it."