Howard University senior wide receiver Elijah Thurmon set the school record for receiving yards in a season yesterday against South Carolina State. But his shortest reception of the day meant the most, as quarterback Bobby Townsend completed the Bison's 42-point second half by throwing him a three-yard touchdown pass with 39 seconds left to give Howard a 49-42 victory before 18,756 at Greene Stadium.
The final touchdown was the second of two the Bison scored in the last 1 minute 42 seconds, erasing a 42-35 deficit.
For the game, Thurmon made nine catches for 147 yards and the touchdown, helping Howard (4-5, 3-3 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) win its second straight game in the final minute despite giving up 572 yards and twice trailing by 14. For the season, which has two games remaining, Thurmon has 64 catches for 1,091 yards, eclipsing Tracy Singleton's mark of 1,087 yards set in 1982. Thurmon's reception total puts him eight behind Gary Harrell's season record of 72 from 1993.
"It's very flattering to break the record," Thurmon said. "But it's a lot better to get the win. I really didn't even know about the record until afterwards."
Townsend returned after missing all or part of four games with injuries and completed 20 of 39 passes for 282 yards, with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
"It was one of those games we had to win for our confidence," Townsend said. "We came out in the second half and fourth quarter and played with a sense of urgency."
Several Howard freshmen had big performances during a wild afternoon in which the teams combined for 63 points in the second half and nearly 1,000 yards for the game. Kevin Simmonds caught a 20-yard touchdown pass with 1:42 left that tied the score at 42. He totaled three receptions for 77 yards. Wide receiver Jonathan Brewer scored on a 98-yard kickoff return and a five-yard reverse. Linebacker Tracy White had a game-high 16 tackles, including one sack.
"There's a lot of heart and a lot of talent on this team," Howard Coach Steve Wilson said. "Today, they showed it."
Howard could not stop South Carolina State's running game. Fullback Chad Eaddy entered the game with just 236 yards rushing for the season, but yesterday he ran for 187 yards and four touchdowns. MEAC rushing leader Derek O'Neal had 137 yards rushing as the Bulldogs (3-5, 1-4) ran for 334 yards. In addition, quarterback Craig James threw for 238 yards.
Howard's Jermaine Hutchinson scored the game's first touchdown from one yard. But Eaddy scored twice as South Carolina State got three consecutive touchdowns for a 21-7 halftime lead.
Howard scored on its initial second-half drive when Brewer got his first career touchdown on a five-yard reverse. Eaddy answered on the Bulldogs' ensuing possession with a 34-yard touchdown for a 28-14 lead with 8:20 left in the period.
Brewer broke the ensuing kickoff for a 98-yard touchdown, the team's first on a kick or punt return this season. The point-after try failed, but two plays later, Howard defensive back Vontrae Long scored on a 16-yard fumble return and Townsend's two-point conversion pass to Leonard Stephens tied the game at 28.
The Bison made it 21 consecutive points on the next possession when Hutchinson scored on another one-yard run with 57 seconds left in the third quarter.
South Carolina State punted on its first possession of the fourth quarter, but defensive lineman Eric Williams intercepted a screen pass by Townsend at the Howard 14 on the next play. That set up Eaddy's 14-yard touchdown run with 12:38 left.
Townsend threw another interception on Howard's next series, and the Bulldogs took a 42-35 lead with 5:53 left, when O'Neal scored on a two-yard run.
Following an exchange of punts, Howard got the ball at its 22-yard line with 2:31 left. Townsend drove the Bison 78 yards in 49 seconds, capped by the touchdown pass to Simmonds. The Bison then forced the Bulldogs to punt again. Omar Evans returned it 14 yards to the Bulldogs 31. Townsend then hit Simmonds with a 28-yard pass before making the game-winning throw to Thurmon.