It seemed every time Howard University's offense had the ball yesterday, points loomed. Unfortunately for the Bison, and a turnaway homecoming crowd at Greene Stadium, most of those points were scored by North Carolina A&T.
The defense and special teams scored A&T's first 16 points and gave the offense possession on the Howard 1 leading to another score as the the Aggies rolled to a 33-12 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference victory in a game filled with unusual plays.
A&T improved to 6-1 overall, 2-1 in the league, with the help of a blocked field goal that resulted in a touchdown, a blocked Howard extra point that became a rare two-point defensive score and five forced turnovers, including a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
"They scored every way possible and we did all we could to help them out," said Howard Coach Steve Wilson, whose team outgained the Aggies, 354 to 215.
Howard, which last week had its nine-game winning streak ended by Division II Virginia State, fell to 5-2, 2-1. Although Howard can take the MEAC title by winning its final three league games, yesterday's loss severely hurt the already remote chance the Bison had of getting an at-large bid to the Division I-AA playoffs, even if they do finish 9-2.
"It was a strange game, wasn't it?" said A&T Coach Bill Hayes. "I have never seen anything like it in my life. I thought it would be a defensive-type game. It was, but it was all our defense."
Actually, both teams played excellent defense, the final score being distorted by 10 late A&T points after the game had been decided.
Prior to that, the Aggies' longest scoring drive was a one-yard sneak by quarterback Connell Maynor with 10:24 remaining, but it gave the Aggies a 23-12 lead. Maynor's touchdown was set up by Sam Davis's 23-yard interception return to the Bison 1.
There were big plays made, narrowly missed and botched from the start.
On A&T's opening drive, senior Laton Jackson, from Ballou High School, was wide open in the end zone, but he dropped what would have been a 34-yard touchdown pass. On the ensuing punt, Howard freshman Gary Harrell's 85-yard return for an apparent touchdown was nullified by a clipping penalty.
A&T took a 7-0 lead with 9:22 left in the half as Tommy McCoy recovered a fumble in the end zone by Howard quarterback Donald Carr.
"We saw the blitz coming and expected it," said Carr, who completed 18 of 31 for a career-high 205 yards, but threw three interceptions. "We had our backs against the wall and anticipated it. We were going to throw a quick pass, but I didn't even have time to do that. They came right up the middle and someone hit my arm as I was about to throw."
The Bison could not have anticipated their other misfortunes.
Carr's 20-yard touchdown pass to Harrell in the left corner with 5:07 left in the half appeared ready to tie the score. But Gary Mossop's extra-point kick was blocked by nose guard Charles Williams. A&T's Chad Armstrong picked up the ball, and under a new NCAA rule that allows defensive teams to score on extra-point blocks or turnovers, returned it the length of the field for two points and a 9-6 lead.
"We go over the new rules every year so I knew I could score with it," said Armstrong, a junior linebacker. "I knew there was no one out there in front me, just behind me."
Howard took the second-half kickoff and drove to A&T's 3. Mossop attempted a 20-yard field goal, but it was also blocked. Holder Chris Dubose, a freshman quarterback, picked up the loose ball and looked to pass, but he was hit and A&T's Lopez Pettis ended up with the ball. At the Howard 42, he lateraled to Armstrong, who scored his first touchdown since high school for a 16-6 lead.
"I was thinking to score when I had it, but I felt someone catching me," said Lopez. "All of a sudden, I saw my teammate coming up beside me. When I let it go, I knew it was a good pitch because I hit him in full stride."
Wilson blamed special teams' breakdowns for a large part of yesterday's outcome.
"We drove the ball and we made big plays, but we didn't take advantage," said Wilson. "It seemed every time we scored, they scored."
Carr's 15-yard run cut the lead to 16-12 with 52 seconds remaining in the third period, but a pass for the two-point conversion was dropped by reserve tight end Anthony Richards. Howard never threatened again.
"I take most of the blame because I am the leader, but we were in the face of adversity and I was trying to make something happen," Carr said of his two interceptions after that touchdown. "I should have just slowed it up to my pace. We were moving it, but we weren't putting it in the end zone."
The Howard offense moved the ball as well as it had all season, and the defense held Maynor, who entered the game as the I-AA leader in pass efficiency, to three of 10 for 49 yards. But the Bison were forced to celebrate homecoming as a frustrated group.
"Special teams seems to be our downfall," said Carr. "It is hurting us right now, but we all have to regroup. We haven't played a complete game all season."