The South Carolina State Bulldogs were in the red zone with nearly a minute left to play, looking to score and force overtime for homecoming on Saturday afternoon inside Oliver C. Dawson Stadium.
But, when a final pass dropped near the goal line, the Howard Bison (5-3 overall, 4-1 in MEAC) held off a late S.C. State surge to take a 28-20 win and send the Bulldogs (2-6 overall, 1-5 in MEAC) to their third straight loss in conference play.
Howard started the game strong, forcing a first-quarter turnover and scoring the first 21 points. S.C. State then answered with 10 second-quarter points. Outscoring the Bison 10-7 in the second half, thanks to special teams play, gave the more than 15,000 faithful homecoming fans some excitement up until the final half-minute of play.
But, the bigger picture is that the Bulldogs have now lost 5 of their last 6 games.
“We got beat again, and the beatings are beginning to really pain us,” S.C. State head football coach Buddy Pough said. “Seems like they are becoming more frequent and we’ve got to find an answer.
“That was a good football team we played out there today, no doubt about that. It wasn’t a total embarrassment, but it did look early like they were going to run us out of our own ballpark. Our guys fought to the end.”
Pough and his staff tried to throw off the Bison defense by starting freshman quarterback Tyrece Nick behind center. But, two plays into the game, S.C. State fumbled the ball away to Howard’s Bryan Cook. It was the 11th recovery by the Bison (ranked No. 2 in the country in takeaways) this season under first-year head coach Mike London.
Howard needed just one play to score, as Jason Collins took the second pitch on a reverse and found Jequez Ezzard for a 31-yard touchdown. Dakota Lebofsky added the PAT kick for a 7-0 score with 14:13 left in the opening quarter.
A punt following the second Bulldogs series left Howard 69 yards away from its second score. Seven plays later, Anthony Philyaw ran in a 3-yard touchdown with 8:22 left in the first quarter. Lebofsky added the PAT kick for a 14-0 lead for the visitors.
A three-and-out for the Bulldogs offense, even with original starter Dewann Ford back in at quarterback, forced another punt. Bulldogs all-time leading tackler Darius Leonard downed the kick at the Howard 2-yard line. Two plays later, freshman quarterback Caylin Newton found Ezzard behind the Bulldogs defense for a pass play that covered 94 yards for a third straight score. Lebofsky added the PAT kick for a 21-0 lead with 6:08 left in the quarter.
“Once you scrap a plan you worked on all week, with a different quarterback, you keep tinkering and tinkering until you find a deal that works,” Pough said. “It was a little bit of an uneasy sensation.
“That’s not because we didn’t have confidence in Dewann, but we didn’t have the (play) package set up for him. We struggled offensively again, hunting points any way we could find them.”
On the final Howard drive of the first quarter, S.C. State got a punt block by Bruce Johnson and a recovery by Jarrod Jones at the Bison’ 26-yard line. Tyler Scandrett made the turnover count by booting a 24-yard field goal at the 13:16 mark of the second quarter.
Three Howard drives later, with the Bulldogs holding up on defense each series, Newton botched a quick kick that put S.C. State at the Bison’ 46-yard line. It took 10 plays, but the home team got its lone offensive touchdown of the day when Ford found De’Montrez Burroughs for a 15-yard scoring pass. Scandrett’s kick made it 21-10 with just 26 seconds left in the half.
A three-and-out forced by the Bulldogs to start the third quarter set up the next S.C. State score. In 7 plays the home team covered 35 yards and got a 36-yard field goal from Scandrett for a 21-13 score at the 11:02 mark of the quarter.
Jason Baxter intercepted a Newton pass in the end zone to stop the next Bison drive. But the Bulldogs couldn’t get going and had to punt.
Howard then went 52 yards in 11 plays, finishing with an 8-yard touchdown run from Da’Vaun Johnson with 4:47 left in the third quarter. Lebofsky added the PAT kick for a 28-13 score.
Early in the fourth quarter, Elijah Anglin intercepted a Ford pass at the S.C. State 33-yard line. Lebofsky’s 28-yard field goal attempt after one first down hit the uprights and bounced wide.
The final points of the game came when Jones blocked a Lebofsky’ punt, which was recovered by S.C. State’s Alex Brown (Lake Marion) and returned 55 yards for a touchdown. Scandrett’s kick made it 28-20 with 5:01 left to play.
Trey Samuel led the Bulldogs with 60 yards rushing on 15 attempts. Ford connected on 16-of-35 passing for 174 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Burroughs had 6 receptions for 94 yards, while Quan Caldwell had 5 receptions for 43 yards.
Leonard had 11 tackles, while Baxter and Damu Ford each had 7 tackles. Cliff Benjamin (Lake Marion) punted 7 times for an average of 34 yards, including 3 left inside the 20-yard line.
For Howard, Newton was 7-for-24 passing for 171 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Dezmond Wortham had 82 yards rushing on 15 carries, while Ezzard had 2 touchdowns on 4 receptions for 144 yards.
Scoring 20 points was the highest production the Bulldogs have posted since a 35-14 home win against Morgan State on Oct. 6.
“Every game we’ve lost, I look back and say I probably should have done this or done that,” Pough said. “In this one, down there late, I probably should have run the ball instead of spiking the ball and throwing it three times trying to score.
“We had a pass and we didn’t catch it. It’s amazing how we can find ways not to win football games. But our team will play to the end. The last three games, we’ve been in two-minute drills. The problem is, we aren’t good enough to get it all the way in and score. But, today I was proud that our kids hung in there and found a way to get back in the football game.”
The S.C. State bye week could not come at a better time than now. The Bulldogs will return to play at home on Willie E. Jeffries Field on Nov. 11 at 1:30 p.m. against Hampton.
“It’s a blessing that we didn’t fill this bye week with a game; we really do need a break,” Pough said. “I’m going to give the guys a few days off, we’ll get away from each other for a while, and then we will get back out here and prepare for the Hampton game.”