Howard Comes From Behind To Capture Second Place
Washington, DC--Howard University erupted for 35 unanswered point in the second half to come from behind and defeat Delaware State, 41-34 in a thrilling, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game at Greene Stadium.
With the win, the Bison (7-4, 6-2 in the MEAC) capture second place in the conference. Delaware State was tied with Howard coming into the game as was North Carolina Central, which lost to North Carolina A&T.
The two teams had a feeling out process to start the game before the Hornets (6-5, 5-3 in the MEAC) drew first blood with a 32-yard field goal at the 4:36 mark of the first quarter. The Bison were unable to get untracked, so the Hornets made good of the opportunity with their highly efficient offense. Quarterback Nick Elko engineered a nine-play, 70-yard drive that was capped off with an 18-yard pass to Justin Wilson.
Howard was able to finally get something going when John Fleck nailed a 41-yard field goal to make it 10-3. But Elko came right back when he finished off a drive with 3-yard toss to Wilson to give Delaware State a 17-3 halftime lead.
The Hornets upped the margin to 24-3 when Nick Williams returned a pass 79 yards for a TD.
Then Howard woke up and began to change the flow of the game. First Terrence Leffall capped off a short dive with a 9-yard run to get to within 24-10 at the 10-minute mark
Following a Delaware State turnover, the Bison cashed in again, going 22 yards in three plays. McGhee connected with Matthew Colvin from 20 yards to narrow the deficit to 24-17 at 8:12 of the third quarter.
Howard got the ball back and scored again on an 18-yard McGhee to Stewart Hartman touchdown pass, tying the score at 24-all, going into the fourth quarter.
McGhee gave the Bison their first lead of the game when he engineered an 11-play, 80-yard drive that was finished off with a three-yard run by Leffall.
On the Hornets' ensuing possession, Howard scored again when senior All-American linebacker Keith Pough returned a fumble 36 yards for a TD to up the margin to 38-24 to start the fourth quarter.
"We made some adjustments at halftime," explained Howard second year head coach Gary Harrell, a strong candidate for MEAC Coach of the Year. "We wanted to make sure that we got Greg McGhee back into the form that we saw from him last week. Terrence Leffall did a great job of running hard for us and our defense did a good job of bending but not breaking. Our tempo in the second half created problems for Delaware State and they couldn't adjust to Leffall on the ground and McGhee and his plays with his arm and his running."
Leffall managed only 38 yards on 12 carries but in the second half, he amassed 215 yards and two TDs. McGhee was equally effective. After completing only 4 of 7 for 38 yards, the talented sophomore completed 14 of 21 for 141 yards and two TDs to go along with his 58 yards rushing in the second half.
"The offensive line did an outstanding job today as they have all season," said Leffall, who played in only eight games this season but still managed to gain more than 1,000 yards. "We came out in the second half and played with more energy. Once we got the momentum, things changed. This is a big win for this program." Leffall's totals placed him in second place all time for rushing yards in a game to Harvey Reed (260 in 1987).
Added McGhee, "I had to tell the team at halftime to keep their heads up and keep fighting. "We knew we had to correct the things we were doing in the first half and play with more energy."
The Hornets forced a turnover on Howard's next possession and Elko and Travis Tarpley made quick work of the opportunity when they teamed up for a three-yard TD pass with plenty of time left.
Howard temporarily stopped the Hornets' momentum with a 37-yard Fleck field goal to make it a two-possession game at 41-31 with 4:18 left on the clock.
The Hornets were able to put together a 72-yard drive, but the Howard defense held and forced a 20-yard Mitchell Ward field goal at the 2:02 mark
Then came another of a series of game-changing plays when Delaware State recovered an onside kick at the Howard 42-yard line with time still left on the clock. But the Hornets hopes of a game-tying TD was thwarted when Howard cornerback Ademola Olatunji picked off an Elko pass, allowing the Bison to run out the clock and finish with the most victories since the 1998 season.
The Bison, who were picked to finish eighth in the pre-season, recorded their best record since the 1998 season.
"In year one, we wanted to be competitive and in Year Two and Three to be contending for a MEAC championship," said Harrell. "We want to keep climbing. Not winning the championship this season is a disappointment. We just have to keep recruiting and continue to build this program."
GAME NOTES: The Bison piled up a season-high 526 yards of total offense…the 347 yards rushing marked the first time this season that Howard has reached that plateau…Colvin, one of two freshman starting receivers, grabbed a career-high six catches for 60 yards and his first career TD…Keith Pough had his best game in several weeks, recording 12 tackles and returning a fumble 36 yards for the first TD of his career…Damon Greshman Chisholm continues to show why he is the top candidate for MEAC Rookie of the Year…the freshman from Covington, GA, had four tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks and a recovered fumble.