WASHINGTON, D.C. - South Carolina State took advantage of some early turnovers and then used the long ball en route to a 59-21 win over Howard in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game at Greene Stadium.
The Bulldogs (5-4 overall, 4-2 in the MEAC), who were coming into the game following a heartbreaking 17-16 home loss to Delaware State last week at home that all but ended their hopes of winning the title, jumped out quickly on the upstart Bison, turning two interceptions into 10 points and then building an insurmountable, 38-7 halftime advantage.
"This team was picked to win the conference in the pre-season," said Howard first-year coach Carey Bailey. "You can't be upset about a loss like this because you know where you are, and you know what they are capable of. Giving them the short field gave them a big boost."
Howard quarterback Brian Johnson came into the game as the MEAC's top rated efficiency passer, having thrown only six interceptions all season and none in the past two games. But the 6-0 senior threw two picks in a six-minute span to start the game that proved to be devastating to his team.
"That hurt us badly," explained Johnson, who completed 22 of 41 for 218 yards, two TDs and two interceptions. "We had a good drive on the first one and the interception put the defense in a bad position. The second time, the defense forced a field goal, but we didn't answer. It's hard for a team to bounce back from that."
The Bulldogs' defense also played a vital role in the victory as it did not allow the Howard offense to use its ball control system to dominate the clock. The SC State defense recorded two interceptions and four three-and-outs on the Bison's first six possessions.
"I was very concerned coming into this game," said SC State Coach Oliver "Buddy" Pough. We were not in the right frame of mind. Getting those interceptions were big in the momentum department. After that it seemed to snowball right on top of them."
The Bulldogs first used the running of their talented sophomore Will Ford to eat up big chunks of yards against the stingy Howard defense that came into the game ranked Number 1 against the rush in the conference. Ford had 84 by himself in the first half alone as he finished with 124 on 17 carries, making his only the second back to reach the century mark against the Bison this season. His 19-yard jaunt and Jonathan Woods' 4-yard burst for scores set up the pass for the talented Bulldogs' offense.
"When you're running the ball so well, you force them to bring more people up," said Coach Pough, who is now 5-1 against Howard and has yet to lose a game in the month of November. "When that happens, a defense is at risk for a big play over the top."
To that end, SC State brought in its strong armed back-up quarterback Malcolm Long. The 6-3, 235-pound freshman didn't take long to make his presence felt as he connected with Oliver Young on a 73-yard bomb that increased the lead to 31-0 with 5:41 before the half.
It was then time for starter Cleveland McCoy to get into the act. The 6-2, 213-pound senior hooked up with fullback Dustin Dubose for 34 yards to increase the score to 38-0.
Howard (4-5 overall, 2-4 in the MEAC) finally got on the board when Johnson engineered a 7-play, 84 yard drive just before the half. He finished off the drive with a 24-yard pass to junior Arlandus Hood, who has missed the past three games.
Following a fine return on the second half kickoff, the Bulldogs were at it again. Taking advantage of a short field, SC State scored quickly as McCoy teamed with Evans Capers from 14 yards out.
The Bison were able to make it somewhat respectable with back-to-back scores, a three-yard run by Johnson and a 17-yard TD pass from Johnson to Jarahn Williams. The TD reception was the 12th of the season for Williams, who tied the school record for TD receptions in a season.
For good measure, the Bulldogs added two late scores on a Jonathan Woods 3-yard run and a 2-yard from Long to Darris Jackson.
"They made some great plays because they are a solid football team," said Bailey. In this situation, you're playing catch-up and they can be aggressive with what they want to do."
Added McCoy, who completed 12 of 17 for 104 yards and two TDs, "This game is always at the end of the season. As a team, you want to get better as the season goes on. By this time, we're really sharp on offense. It was perfect timing for us today. It all came together."
GAME NOTES: The Bison came into the game as the least penalized team in the conference, but they were flagged 13 times for a season-high 122 yards...Ford now needs 32 yards to reach the 1,000-mark on the season...Long, the heir apparent to McCoy, completed 5 of 8 for 172 yards and 2 TDs...Howard came into the game leading the nation in time of possession with over 35 minutes per game...the Bison surprisingly won the battle, 32 minutes to 28, mostly because the Bulldogs worked with a short field and had several big plays on offense...Williams has now a TD pass in every game this season...the Bulldogs' speed on special teams were also a factor as they limited Howard to 17 yards per kick return while averaging 30 yards per return...the 41 passing attempts by Johnson were a career high...the Bison played most of the game without its top four running backs (Terry Perry, Karlos Whittaker, Frank Berchie and Leonard Moore), all of whom are injured. Seldom used Dion Townley, a converted defensive back, carried the ball 10 times for 39 yards, both career highs...SC State's Aaron Haire punted only four times due to the success of the offense, but he still maintained his average by hitting four for an average of 41 yards...SC State sacked the Howard QBs 3 times, adding to their season total of 26...Rudy Hardie still remains almost unblockable. Going up against arguably the best offensive line in the conference and perhaps the top lineman in James Lee, Hardie still managed two sacks, three tackles for losses and drew several holding calls on Lee and his mates.
NEXT UP: SC State hosts Morgan State next week at 1:30 pm at Bulldog Stadium while Howard closes out the 2007 home season with a clash against the Wildcats of Bethune-Cookman University at 1 pm in Greene Stadium. It will be Senior Day for 21 members of the team who will be playing their last home game in a Bison uniform.