Despite an early 14-point deficit, despite an injury that forced starting quarterback Bobby Townsend from the game late in the third quarter, despite 15 penalties, four turnovers, a blocked punt, a missed extra point and despite giving up a tying field goal with three seconds left in regulation, the Howard Bison had an excellent chance to upset Florida A&M yesterday.

In overtime, however, the Rattlers kept scoring and the Bison eventually did not.

After the teams traded touchdowns and then field goals, Florida A&M scored a touchdown in the third overtime, then got an interception from Trabian Turner at its goal line, leaving Howard with a 40-34 loss before 8,890 at Greene Stadium.

The Rattlers, ranked 15th in Division I-AA, took what turned out to be their final lead on backup quarterback Quinn Gray's 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Demetris Bendross on the second play of the third overtime. But on the ensuing two-point conversion try--required when games go beyond two overtimes--Gray's pass was incomplete.

Howard then faced third down and eight from the 23-yard line. Backup quarterback Roy Anderson threw for wide receiver Kevin Simmonds, but Turner stepped in and intercepted. Just like that, Howard (2-3, 1-2 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) had its 19th loss in the 23 games all-time against Florida A&M (4-2, 4-0), which has won 11 consecutive MEAC games.

"We knew we'd be able to play with them," Howard Coach Steve Wilson said. "Unfortunately, in football, there's no consolation, you either get a W or an L, and we got an L."

Florida A&M entered the game averaging 438 yards and 45.2 points. The Bison gave up 432 yards yesterday, but they forced six turnovers (recovering three of FAMU's six fumbles) and had six sacks.

The Bison also seemed in good position to win when Charles Card made a 50-yard field goal for a 24-21 lead with 6 1/2 minutes left in regulation and Vontrae Long then intercepted a pass by Gray, who replaced an ineffective and increasingly frustrated starter JaJuan Seider midway through the third quarter.

However, following Long's interception at the Howard 40 with 4:56 to play, the Bison couldn't run out the clock. They got one first down, but penalties forced them to punt from their 45 and Florida A&M took over at its 21 with 1:45 left and one timeout.

Gray completed 3 of 4 passes for 45 yards and Howard committed one offside infraction, helping the Rattlers move to a first down at the Bison 26 with just under 40 seconds remaining. Gray then scrambled for two yards and threw an incomplete pass. On third and nine, Howard again jumped offside. After the penalty, the referee signaled the ball ready for play while FAMU's offensive players were gathered along the sideline. The clock ticked down to seven seconds before the Rattlers could line up and spike the ball.

Kicker Jeremy Edwards, who missed field goal attempts of 50, 42 and 51 yards earlier in the game, then made a 37-yarder to force overtime.

"It was a heart-wrenching, very exciting football game," said FAMU Coach Billy Joe. "I guess it comes down to the team that made the fewest mistakes and the last non-mistake [was the winner]."

Howard trailed 14-0 before the first quarter was half over and 21-13 late in third quarter, by which time Townsend had aggravated a sprained foot. However, the Bison rallied behind Anderson, a junior who had thrown two passes in his career--none this season. He threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Jevonte Philpot on the second play of the fourth quarter and ran for a two-point conversion to tie the game at 21.

Howard's Serge Sejour then intercepted a pass on each of the Rattlers next two possessions. He returned the second 36 yards and a facemask penalty gave the Bison the ball at the Rattlers 15 with 9:53 left in regulation. The Bison drove to a second down and goal at the 4 before two holding penalties and an illegal motion penalty pushed them to the 33. Card then came on for just his second field goal attempt of the season. His 50-yard kick hit the crossbar, but somehow flipped over to give Howard a 24-21 lead with 6:33 left. As it turned out, a touchdown might have given Howard the win.