TALLAHASSEE, FLA., NOV. 10 -- Howard University, trying to remain in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference race, self-destructed early on offense and defense, leading to a 39-20 loss to Florida A&M Rattlers tonight before 10,737.

With the victory, Florida A&M (6-4, 5-0) clinched at least a share of the MEAC title. Howard (6-4, 3-2) lost for the third time in four games and was eliminated from contention.

Entering the game, Howard was ranked first in Division I-AA for total defense, allowing 236.3 yards a game. But today the Rattlers totaled 457 yards, 323 yards passing. The 39 points was the most allowed by Howard since a 58-51 victory over Bethune-Cookman in 1987.

Florida A&M scored on its first drive and got 271 yards in offense in the first half. Junior quarterback Antoine Ezell completed 15 of 28 passes for three touchdowns and no interceptions in the game.

On the fourth play of the game, Ezell scored on a one-yard sneak to give the Rattlers the lead, 6-0, as the extra point was wide right.

Howard closed to 6-3 at 9:36 of the first quarter on a 41-yard field goal by Gary Mossop after a fumble by Tyrone Davis.

But following a Howard punt, Florida A&M quickly increased its lead to 13-3. From their 20, the Rattlers drove 80 yards, capped by a seven-yard pass from Ezell to wide receiver James Thurman.

"The key to their {Howard's} pass defense is their pass rush," said Florida A&M Coach Ken Riley. "We started throwing early to exploit their blitz."

Florida A&M widened the gap to 20-3 on a 34-yard pass from Ezell to wide receiver Harry Brown. Ezell had plenty of time to find Brown beating Howard cornerback Walter Price for the catch in the back of the end zone. "The receivers were catching the ball in tough spots," said Ezell. "I had plenty of time to take what they gave us."

Howard shuffled between quarterbacks Chris Dubose and Donald Carr. Dubose was four for 15 for 29 yards and two interceptions. Carr was 11 of 22 for 201 yards and two interceptions. At one point late in the first half, they alternated on each play.