Little seemed to be going right for the Howard offense yesterday. But with defensive backs Antuan Jones and Gerald Smith making big plays on defense, the Lions were able to take sole possession of first place in the Howard County league.

Jones returned the first of his two interceptions 34 yards for a touchdown, Smith made a touchdown-saving tackle to end the first half and the Lions went on to defeat Oakland Mills, the defending Maryland 1A champion, 20-7, before an overflow homecoming crowd of 1,800 in a battle for first place yesterday in Columbia.

Seventeenth-ranked Howard (5-0, 4-0) had just 113 yards of total offense, but still ended a 15-game winning streak for Oakland Mills (4-1, 3-1).

Emotions were high throughout the game. As the teams lined up to shake hands afterward, several players from each team began scuffling and the teams had to be separated by coaches and officials.

"There is a lot of hatred" between the two teams, said Jones, whose first quarter interception return gave the Lions a 7-0 lead. "They come out every year talking trash. This year, we proved we are number one, especially our defense. If we keep playing like this, we're going to be Howard County champions and state champions."

On the final play of the first half, from the Howard 30-yard line, Oakland Mills quarterback J.T. Rembert scrambled around the right end and down the sideline. As he neared the end zone, he elected to run over Smith instead of cutting the play back. The decision came back to haunt him as Smith met Rembert just outside the goal line, jarred the ball loose and knocked it out of bounds.

"It was a big dog hit," said Howard Coach Vince Parnell, whose team is trying to win its first league title since 1993--which was also the last time it beat Oakland Mills until yesterday. "That must have been on the Richter scale."

After the play, Smith, who has verbally committed to Penn State, remained on the field for two minutes with a shoulder injury. He returned to play in the second half and had an interception in the final minute. He also was named homecoming king.

In the second half, Jones broke a 55-yard run to set up one touchdown and Howard recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff to set up another touchdown that made it 20-0.