The crowd. The colors. The camaraderie. Hampton vs. Howard is more than just a football game; it’s the battle for the title “The Real HU.” But lately it hasn’t been much of a battle at all on the gridiron between the schools. The Hampton Pirates have tamed the Bison 13 years in a row and in front of a packed Greene Stadium on Sept. 11, Virginia’s HU version won a 14th claim for the undisputed title. Hampton’s 31-21 road victory over Howard extended its win streak in this long-standing rivalry and resolved any doubt about who holds the title of the Real HU— at least for another year.

Early in the first half however, it appeared the Bison (0-2) and third string quarterback Casey Council were ready to shake the rivalry up a little. Making his first start of the season, Council led a nine-play, 64-yard drive on Howard’s first possession which he capped himself with a 15-yard touchdown run. The Bison stunned the Pirates (1-1) with a heavy option offense with Council controlling the reigns and controlling the game. Although Council (121 total yards, one touchdown) continued to terrorize Hampton for much of the half, the Pirates were able to rally and even the contest 14-14 at the half.

Hampton then exploded for two touchdowns in the third quarter on consecutive series to give the Pirates a 28-14 lead with 4:04 remaining in the period. Keying on the diminutive Council in the second half, Hampton slowed Howard’s offense with star defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis, whose 16 tackles and two sacks led all defensive players. With the 6-foot-5-inch, 340-pound Ellis freelancing through Howard’s offensive line, The Pirates’ rejuvenated defense swarmed the Bison for much of the second stanza. Howard’s stalled offense forced the insertion of sophomore signal caller Terry Bradden, who turned the ball over three times in the final period.

“Football is about adjustments,” said Ellis. “Going into halftime we realized what they were doing in the game and we adjusted. We (the defensive line) took care of the (quarterback option) dive and my fellow defensive players did their job.”

Although the game was seemingly out of reach for much of the final two quarters, the battle over just what is the “real” HU elevated from the field to the bleachers after a magnetic halftime show. With both bands trading numbers throughout the final half, the pageantry made for an even playing field in a game that was over by the middle of the third quarter.

“It is what it’s hyped up to be,” said Howard sophomore linebacker Keith Pough. “It’s always extra emotion involved when you play Hampton because of the rivalry.”

The Bison may have taken the battle of the bands, but it’s on the football field that Howard has to adjust and compete in the short term if they want to fully restore the rivalry. Howard hasn’t beaten Hampton since a 26-7 road win in 1996, a fact that Howard coach Carey Bailey is tired of reading.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” said Bailey. “It’s kind of like every morning waking up and having the same bowl of cereal when you have the taste for something else.

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO