In his two seasons as coach at Howard, Steve Wilson gradually has revamped his offense from an option running style to a run-and-shoot emphasizing the pass. But yesterday, before 5,405 at Greene Stadium, Delaware State showed the Bison how important it is to be able to run the ball.
Junior fullback Mike Murray rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns as Delaware State had 369 yards rushing and dominated the second half for a 29-14 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference victory in a game that ended a disappointing year for two teams that entered the season expecting this game to decide the league championship.
Delaware State finished 7-3, 4-2. Howard, which started 5-0, lost five of its final six to finish 6-5, 3-3.
"We started out fast," Wilson said. "We just ended up slow. In the first five games we were healthy. When we got people hurt, we lost our effectiveness. We knew we didn't have much depth coming into the season, and if you don't have depth, you eventually feel it."
Howard played yesterday without five starters injured over the past six weeks. In addition, four of the five starting offensive linemen played hurt, and banged up running back James "J.J." Carpenter was limited to three carries.
Still, Howard led, 7-0, as Chris Dubose threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Handy Miles with 3:06 left in the first half.
But in the second half, the Hornets took a 21-7 lead by controlling all but eight plays of the first 24:40. In that time, Delaware State ran off 49 plays. For the game, the Hornets had the ball for 40 minutes 28 seconds to Howard's 19:32 and had 399 total yards to the Bison's 175.
"A lot of people think the wing-T offense is antiquated, but even with a great receiver like David Jones we still believe you have to be able to run the football," said Delaware State Coach Bill Collick.
A steady wind, and the separated shoulder of senior quarterback Curtis Williams, forced the Hornets to stick to the ground. Freshman Erik Jones threw only six passes, completing three, but one was a 15-yarder to senior David Jones for a touchdown that gave the Hornets a 14-7 lead with 14:38 remaining.
Jones caught two passes, giving him 101 receptions, to break by one the school record set by John Taylor, now a Pro Bowl performer with the San Francisco 49ers.
Most of the rest of the second half was dedicated to running. A key play on the 67-yard drive leading to Jones's touchdown came on fourth and three at the Howard 37. Murray, the upback, ran 25 yards around left end from punt formation.
"I saw all their men in an overload on the right," said Murray, who called an audible with the Hornets trailing, 7-6. "To win games, you have to do things to make things happen."
Collick said his coaches in the press box saw the opening on previous Howard punts. "Mike has the luxury of calling that when he thinks it's there," said Collick. "He just better make it."
Wilson said it was a major play, not a fatal one.
"I'll take 30 fake punts rather than the way they pounded the ball on every play against us in the second half," he said. "We just got manhandled physically."
Reserve quarterback Donald Carr's 10-yard pass to freshman Derrick Daniels cut the deficit to 21-14 with 2:54 left, but the onside kick was recovered by Delaware State.
In defeat, Howard nose guard Brian Taltoan (17 tackles, 12 unassisted) and linebacker Kenneth Newsome (11, 10) were outstanding, but both echoed their teammates' disappointment with the season.
"You know it is the last time you are going out there," said Taltoan, a senior. "But that is not the way you want it to end."