Howard quarterback Bobby Townsend probably won't be hearing too much about Ted White any more.
Townsend threw three of his four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, the final one a 35-yard toss to Elijah Thurmon with 31 seconds left that completed Howard's comeback from a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit and gave the Bison a 31-27 victory over Bethune-Cookman in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game before 21,812 at Cinergy Field.
Townsend completed 18 of 39 passes for a career-high 396 yards despite spraining his ankle. His late-game heroics continue to delight Howard Coach Steve Wilson.
"I played with Roger Staubach and I played with John Elway--they were special because they could make the unbelievable happen at the end," Wilson said. "Bobby Townsend did Elway- and Staubach-like things today."
Townsend worked throughout the summer to develop an on-field rapport with Thurmon, and the two have clicked. Thurmon led the MEAC entering the game with 14 receptions and added 11 for 202 yards today, both career highs, and two touchdowns.
Thurmon had 10 receptions when Howard lost at Jackson State two weeks ago. He has 25 catches in three games.
"The connection that we worked on this summer paid off today," Thurmon said.
Howard (1-2, 1-1) had looked lethargic on offense for much of the first three quarters and fell behind 27-10 when Bethune-Cookman's Jeremy Thomas scored on a one-yard touchdown with 8 minutes 51 seconds left.
But Townsend and Thurmon combined on the comeback. Townsend threw a short pass to Jevonte Philpot that he turned into a 73-yard touchdown with 8:15 left. On the next Bison possession, starting from the Howard 25, Townsend connected with David Johnson on a 20-yard pass and found Thurmon for 37. Townsend then threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Thurmon, slicing the lead to 27-24 with 4:26 left.
Injured quarterback Pa'tell Troutman, who started with a bruised thigh and hurt his ankle early on, returned to try to rally the Wildcats and finished with 115 yards rushing, but Howard got the ball back on its own 34 with 2:03 left and two timeouts.
The Bison appeared finished when Townsend missed on a fourth-and-eight throw but a late pass interference call kept their hopes alive, angering Bethune-Cookman Coach Alvin Wyatt.
"That's the poorest officiating I've ever seen either as a player or as a coach," Wyatt said. "That interference call just killed us. It's not fair to kids or the institution."
Townsend then threw passes of 14 and seven yards to Thurmon. After a motion penalty on Howard, Townsend lofted a perfect 35-yard touchdown pass to Thurmon for the victory.
"I kind of felt we could pass the whole game," Townsend said. "We came out in the fourth quarter and said we were going to win. We knew we could do it. That was the feeling on the sideline and in the locker room at halftime."
Howard was called for 14 penalties for 111 yards and again made many miscues on special teams. Several of them came in the first half, yet the Bison only trailed 6-3 at halftime.
This victory caps a wild week for Howard. Hurricane Floyd cost the Bison some practice time and forced cancellation of its Thursday flight to Cincinnati. Howard then had to make a 10-hour bus trip to Ohio starting at midnight Thursday.
To make matters worse, injuries decimated the team. Starting cornerback Omar Evans missed the game with a back injury, and starting tight end Leonard Stephens sat out with a bad ankle.
Cornerback Chad Scott sprained his ankle and Jeremy Holt, who started in place of Evans, tore his anterior cruciate ligament and is out for the season. Howard was down to one cornerback in the second half.
In addition, defensive end Damian Walker tore his medial collateral ligament and is out about six weeks. Left guard Mpumi Masimini, who moved to left tackle when Levar Young was ejected in the second half, also hurt his ankle. Right guard Eddie Hooper stretched his Achilles' tendon.
Overcoming all of that made this victory that much sweeter for Wilson.
"This may have been one of the worst weeks we've ever had," Wilson said. "But to come back and win it the way we did puts a whole new light on it all of a sudden. You look at it and and you understand that perseverance is the key."