-- Howard University entered today's game confident about winning -- and entering its season finale next weekend with something at stake. But the Bison ran up against a Bethune-Cookman team that had exactly the same idea.
The host Wildcats prevailed, 46-27, to gain a share of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship. They can win it outright with a win next Saturday against cross-state rival Florida A&M.
"We had things going pretty well -- until the last three minutes of the first half," said Howard Coach Ray Petty, referring to his team's mental errors that turned the game's momentum. "Once they got it, they controlled it the rest of the way. No matter what we tried after that, we just couldn't sustain anything, and they did."
The score was tied at 13 late in the second quarter and looked like it would be that way at the half. But then on a Howard punt, Tralan Andrews snapped the ball over punter Vaughn Waters's head and out of the end zone for a safety.
After the ensuing free kick and 30 yards on two pass plays, Bethune-Cookman sent in reserve quarterback Scot Austin. He immediately hooked up on a 32-yard scoring pass with receiver Rashean Mathis, who normally plays safety, to make it 22-13 with 50 seconds left in the half.
But the opportunistic Wildcats were not satisfied. They pulled off an onsides kick which they recovered and turned into a 24-yard field goal by Daniel King on the next-to-last play of the half for a 12-point lead at the break.
"We were really up for this game," Howard linebacker Tracy White said. "But we made a few errors on special teams -- all at once, it seemed. And that did us in. We lost our focus and became a little undisciplined there just before halftime, and that really hurt us."
The Bison made things interesting to start the third period. Vincent Neclos blocked a Bethune-Cookman punt on the Wildcats' first possession of the second half, and teammate Anthony Shackleford carefully covered it in the end zone to slice the margin to four points, 25-21.
But Bethune-Cookman put together a 56-yard scoring drive, then intercepted a Donald Clark pass to set up another score, and things started to get out of hand.
"We played hard, but Bethune did, too," senior tackle Marques Ogden said. "They used a defensive scheme that didn't allow us to double-team block them all that much. My hat is off to them. They had a good plan."
The Wildcats (10-1, 6-1) used three touchdown runs by quarterback Lawrence McCloud to set the pace. Subbing for the injured Allen Suber, McCloud scored on runs of 18, 10 and 9 yards.
Mathis scored twice, thanks to a 55-yard interception return on the first play of the second quarter. It was his 13th of the season -- which leads all Division I-AA players.
Howard (6-4, 4-3), which finishes next Saturday at home against Delaware State, used two scoring passes by Clark to keep things even early. Jay Colbert's 18-yard scoring catch started things in the first quarter, but McCloud answered quickly.
Then came Mathis's swipe for a score before Clark evened things with a 45-yard toss to Jonathan Brewer.
That's how it stayed until Bethune-Cookman's flurry just before halftime.
Colbert was the game's top ball-mover, chugging for 124 yards on 25 carries. He now has 935 rushing yards for the season.
"This was tough after winning three straight and getting into the championship picture," Ogden said. "Even though we're out of the race, I think you'll see us be ready to make a good push to end up 7-4. We love this game too much and our fans too much not to."