Dover, DE - Delaware State University spotted Howard a 7-0 lead and then took advantage of several Bison miscues en route to a 29-13 win in the regular season finale at Alumni Stadium. The regular season champion Hornets (10-1 overall, 8-0 in the MEAC) capped off its best season in years and now await their opponent in the first round of next week's Football Championship Subdivision (formerly 1-AA) playoffs. The MEAC regular season champion gets an automatic bid.
The Bison (4-7 overall, 2-6 in the MEAC) drew first blood on their first possession, going 80 yards in 14 plays and taking over seven minutes off the clock. Senior quarterback Brian Johnson finished off the drive with a 9-yard TD pass to Larry Duncan (6 receptions for 43 yards).
Delaware State, perhaps feeling the emotion of the pre-game ceremonies where 17 seniors were honored, was unable to generate any offense as Howard forced them into several three-and-outs.
While the Howard defense was able to uphold its end of the deal, the offense failed to take advantage of the opportunities. Then came what would be one of three mistakes that changed the game. Howard was driving for what appeared to be another score that would have put pressure on the Hornets. But junior tailback Karlos Whittaker coughed up the ball and gave the Hornets' life at the Hornets' 17. DSU put together a 13-play, 83-yard drive that was capped off by a 5-yard TD run by Kareem Jones and tied the game at 7-7 at the half.
The Hornets gained a bit of momentum from the new life and capitalized on another Bison miscue at the start of the third period. Johnson was sacked in his end zone and he fumbled and kicked the ball out of the end zone, giving the Hornets a safety.
"I thought that was probably the turning point in the game," said Howard first year coach Carey Bailey. "Even with the fumble and the first TD, I thought we were in pretty good shape. But the safety was certainly big."
DSU got the free kick on the ensuing possession and drove deep in Bison territory, but the defense stiffened and forced a 24-yard field goal by Peter Gaertner, increasing the lead to 12-7 at the 12:21 mark.
Then disaster struck again for the Bison when senior Jarahn Williams was hit and stripped of the ball on the kickoff. DSU's Brandon Hudson returned it 10 yards for an easy score and more importantly a 19-7 lead.
"We have a pretty good run defense, so we came into the game concentrating on forcing them to beat us with the pass," said Howard senior All-American defensive end Rudy Hardie, who had a monster game with 14 tackles, a sack and 2 tackles for losses. "They managed to hit us with a couple of big plays, but it was the turnovers that really hurt."
DSU got a short field at the start of the fourth quarter, but
again the Bison defense stood tall and forced the Hornets to settle
for a 33-yard field goal by Gaertner. DSU tacked on another
score when Lennox Norville scored from 4 yards out.
Howard struggled offensively for most of the second half after Johnson re-injured his ankle and was forced to give way to Floyd Haigler. The 6-2 red-shirt sophomore was able to rebound from a rocky start and take his team on a 69-yard, 10-play drive that he capped off with a 4-yard pass to Williams, his 15th TD reception of the year.
"This game was somewhat indicative of our season," reflected Bailey. "We have to be able to control the clock and not make mistakes in order for us to be successful. When we fail to do those things, we have not been able to be successful."
GAME NOTES: In addition to his record for TD passes in a season, he also holds the record for TD passes in consecutive games (11)...Robert Dowdy capped off his career with another outstanding performance...he finished with 4 solos, 6 assists, a tackle for a loss and a forced fumble...sophomore LB Robert Parker continued his improvement, tallying 10 tackles, 2 for losses and a fumble recovery...junior MLB Endor Cooper showed why he is a strong candidate for all-conference honors, finishing 7 tackles, one resulting in a loss and several bone-jarring tackles on DSU runners...the Bison finished with a season-low 277 yards of total offense and in total points...it is the first 10-win season for the Hornets...DSU is riding an 8-game win streak, headed into the playoffs...the Bison started the season losing their first three games and ended the season the same way.