The two teams battled back and forth but, in the end, Delaware State made the plays that counted as the Hornets edged Howard University, 32-31, in a wild Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) game on Nov. 21 at Alumni Stadium in Dover, Del.
Both teams came into the game looking for a win. The Bison (1-10, 1-7 in the MEAC) were looking to pick up their second victory to end a disappointing season on a positive note while Delaware State was looking for its first win of the season. Something had to give.
Howard got on the board first when red-shirt freshman quarterback Kalen Johnson engineered a 16-play, 65-yard drive that was capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run by freshman running back Ricquaz Brannon midway through the first quarter.
The Hornets responded on the ensuing kickoff as Brycen Alleyne returned a John Fleck kick 88 yards for a touchdown.
Then in a rarity, Howard returned the favor 16 seconds later when Robert Mercer found a seam in the Delaware State coverage and outran everyone for the first kick return for a score in his career.
Then came one of a few bizarre plays of the game. Delaware State put together a seven-play, 76-yard drive that was capped off by a Kobie Lain 5-yard touchdown run right up the middle of the Bison defense. The Hornets’ Wisdom Nzidee was set to tie the score at 14-all, but linebacker Jalen Day, who had another brilliant day, blocked the attempt and raced up the field for the defensive two-point score, making it 16-13, Howard to start the second quarter.
After the Bison began to bog down on offense, Delaware State took advantage as Lain, in his first start as a freshman, put together a nine-play, 85-yard drive, finishing it off with a 16-yard hookup with Nate Ortiz that gave his team its first lead of the game at 19-16 with 5:21 remaining in the second quarter.
The Howard defense set up the next score when Delaware State decided to go for it on fourth down, only to be stopped, returning the ball to the Bison at the Hornets 43-yard line. It took seven plays with Johnson capping it off with a 19-yard run to give Howard the lead at 23-19 at intermission.
After both teams took turns giving the ball to the other, Howard was finally able to get something going when Travon Hunt forced a fumble on a punt return by Delaware State that was recovered by Aaron Hutchins, giving the Bison the ball at the Delaware State 36-yard line. On second and 10 from the Delaware State 26-yard line, Johnson connected with senior Matt Colvin for the score. Freshman Jalen Avery, the holder, fooled the Delaware State team and kept the ball for a two-point conversion. It gave the Bison the biggest lead of the game at 31-19 with 6:59 remaining in the third quarter.
That was the end of the scoring for Howard. A series of penalties and turnovers doomed them and allowed the Hornets to escape with the win. First Aris Scott of Delaware State hauled in a Lain pass with a spectacular one-hand catch with little under three minutes remaining in the third period to get to within 31-25.
Howard had enough opportunities to put the game away, but each time, untimely penalties or mistakes prevented it.
Finally, the Hornets made the play that gave them their first win of the season when Dae-Hon Cheung raced 64 yards to end the streak. The Bison had two more possessions in the last six minutes, but failed to capitalize.
The loss overshadowed sterling play by some of Howard’s individual players. Howard’s Brannon rushed for a career-high 126 yards on 22 carries including a career-best 75-yard touchdown run; Johnson was 16 of 25 for 134 yards, one passing and another rushing touchdown, but he was sacked nine times; Colvin closed out his career at Howard with six receptions for 83 yards; Junior Robert Mercer returned three kickoffs for 116 yards, a high in his career; junior linebacker Jalen Day had eight tackles and a return of a PAT for a score; and finally sophomore cornerback Travon Hunt recorded four tackles, forced a fumble and picked off his fifth pass of the season.