Howard University's football team has been known for a powerful offense in recent years, but the Bison found a different way to win yesterday--they used defense.
Howard's Oby Arah and Vontrae Long scored on fumble returns, Omar Evans made two interceptions and the Bison defeated Texas Southern, 32-20, before a crowd of 6,308 at Greene Stadium.
The Bison (2-2) won their second consecutive game and now have a week off before facing Florida A&M, a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opponent that is ranked 19th in Division I-AA, at home on Oct. 9.
That will give Howard time to reflect on a solid defensive performance that helped the Bison win a game in which the offense often sputtered.
"The defense did a really good job of containing their interior run," Howard Coach Steve Wilson said. "It's good to see that from our young players. But [we did] give up some big plays, and we've got to contain that."
Texas Southern wide receiver Joey Jamison proved almost impossible to contain, accounting for 271 yards and two touchdowns. He caught an 84-yard touchdown pass, returned a punt 81 yards for another score and had a 95-yard punt return nullified by a penalty.
The Texas Southern coaches did everything to get Jamison the ball, even putting him at tailback at one point. "I've never played running back before," an exhausted Jamison said. "They tried to get me the ball any way [they could]."
That's because Howard's defense basically controlled everyone else, limiting Texas Southern (2-2) to 188 yards and gaining some revenge for last year's 30-7 loss to the Tigers. The Bison defensive line overwhelmed the Tigers' offensive line yesterday, holding Texas Southern to 64 yards rushing on 40 attempts--with 83 yards in losses.
"We're not the biggest defensive line," said Arah, a sophomore defensive end. "So we just work on our speed. Our quickness and technique hurt them."
The Bison's offense had its moments, but could not gain the consistency it has shown at other times this season. Howard gained 395 yards, including 178 rushing, but it wasted several scoring chances.
Junior running back Jermaine Hutchinson rushed for 30 yards on the game's first play and, after sitting on the bench for a while following two fumbles, finished with 112 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. Fellow junior running back David Johnson scored one touchdown and ran for 60 yards on 18 carries.
Quarterback Bobby Townsend struggled, completing 13 of 32 passes for 217 yards with one interception. Elijah Thurmon had another big game with seven catches for 117 yards--he now has 32 catches--but Townsend twice missed him when he was wide-open on deep patterns.
"There's a lot of things we have to work on," Hutchinson said. "We've done a lot of great things, but we've also done a lot of bad things."
Hutchinson's four-yard touchdown run a little less than five minutes into the game capped Howard's first possession. But the Tigers recovered a fumble by Hutchinson at the Bison 29 late in the first quarter, and Ray Rubins scored on a four-yard run five seconds into the second quarter. A bad snap foiled the extra point, and Howard led 7-6.
Trevor Zacharie, the first of three Tigers quarterbacks, then fumbled while trying to pitch the ball, and Arah picked it up and ran 18 yards for a touchdown and a 13-6 lead with 11 1/2 minutes left in the first half.
Jamison tied the game with his long punt return 1:16 before halftime, but Howard needed just 22 seconds to respond. Townsend found Johnson for a 36-yard completion and hit junior wide receiver Jevonte Philpot for 41 yards to give the Bison a first down at the 3-yard line. Johnson scored on the next play, giving Howard a 20-13 halftime lead.
Just over two minutes into the third quarter, Howard extended the lead when Long, a freshman safety, picked up another bad pitch--this one from new quarterback Julius Davis--and ran 34 yards for a touchdown. The extra-point try failed, leaving Howard with a 26-13 advantage.
Later in the third quarter, Davis threw the 84-yard touchdown pass to Jamison for 26-20. But Hutchinson's 29-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter--even with a failed two-point conversion try--provided more than enough cushion, as Howard's defense finally silenced the Tigers.
"We stepped it up today," Evans said. "We took [last year's game] personally. We wanted to show them that we were back."