The Howard football team opened the season by facing consecutive Big Ten opponents, losing in lopsided fashion both times. On Saturday afternoon, the Bison finally drew a lower-division adversary in Hampton for the Nation’s Football Classic at RFK Stadium.
Players for Howard, particularly upperclassmen, entered the renewal of one of the longest running rivalries among historically black colleges and universities with the added incentive of redeeming themselves for last year’s loss to the Pirates.
What unfolded instead was another demoralizing result, 34-7, in which significant breakdowns in all three phases sent the Bison to their sixth consecutive defeat dating from last season.
“I can accept losing, but I can’t accept the way we lost,” Bison Coach Gary “Flea” Harrell said. “We’ve got to find out who we are, going back to our identity. Are we tough enough to move forward?”
In the MEAC opener for both schools, Howard (0-3) absorbed its most lopsided loss to Hampton (1-2) since a 37-0 defeat in 2009. The Bison’s only points this time came courtesy of tailback Anthony Philyaw’s three-yard run with 13 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. The touchdown ended Howard’s streak of six straight quarters without scoring.
Howard surrendered 423 yards of total offense and committed 11 penalties for 122 yards in front of an announced crowd of 13,068. Bison quarterbacks Kalen Johnson and Jason Collins combined to throw for just 97 yards in completing 8 of 20 attempts . Collins did manage 98 rushing yards, including an 85-yarder, on seven carries.
Making the outcome that much more unpalatable was an injury to Bison middle linebacker Devin Rollins. The redshirt senior starter exited the game for good in the third quarter wearing an air cast protecting his right forearm, with Harrell conceding Rollins is probably out for the year.
Special teams miscues plagued Howard, none more egregious than allowing the Pirates’ Damon Woodcock, a redshirt freshman, an unimpeded path to Bison punter Dakota Lebofsky on fourth and long. Woodcock dove and stretched both arms for the block, and teammate Bruce Perry, another redshirt freshman, scooped up the loose ball for a 27-yard touchdown return.
That sequence of events left Howard trailing, 17-0, with 8:19 left in the third quarter. Hampton all but secured the triumph on its next series in which backup quarterback Brandon Cox scored on a two-yard run with 1:45 to play to finish a 10-play, 60-yard drive.
“Those type of things, punts returned for a touchdown, they really change momentum,” Harrell said. “You’ve got to give them credit for the things they did, but we just didn’t play well.”
A 38-yard kickoff return by Rashawn Proctor to start the second half gave Hampton first and 10 at the Bison 48. After a false start, the Pirates moved to the 13 on three runs from Yahkee Johnso and Erik Carter Jr.’s 10-yard run in which the redshirt freshman dragged multiple defenders to the first-down marker.
Hampton got no closer to the end zone though, in part because of a penalty, and had to settle for place kicker Anthony Prevost’s 31-yard field goal with 10:35 to play in the third quarter.
Yahkee Johnson, a junior, was selected the game’s most outstanding player with 110 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown on 10 touches.
Hampton scored the first points of the game on Carter’s run from inside the Bison 1 on fourth and goal to cap an eight-play, 81-yard drive. The Pirates overcame a 15-yard loss following a sack early in the series when on third down and seven, tight end Jack Willenbrock came wide open across the middle for a 72-yard gain to the 6.
“I felt like they weren’t giving us the credit we deserved,” Johnson said, referring to a joint team lunch during the week in which the discussion focused on the Bison. “It was all about Howard, so I think we felt some type of way about that, and we wanted to come out and make a statement.”