Stony Brook’s Donald Liotine rushed for a career-high 204 yards and scored two touchdowns, including the one that proved to be the game-winner, but it was the Howard University Bison’s inability to take advantage of opportunities that proved to be the difference as Howard fell, 14-9 to Stony Brook on Nov. 7 in a non-conference game at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium in Stony Brook, N.Y.
The Bison (1-8) took the early lead on a field goal by John Fleck at the end of the first quarter. It was set up when cornerback Travon Hunt ripped away a pass intended for a Seawolves’ receiver and returned it to the Stony Brook 21-yard line. It was Hunt’s fourth interception of the season.
This set up a golden opportunity for the Bison with a first-and-goal at the Seawolves’ 9-yard line. But the first of 12 sacks by Stony Brook forced the Fleck field goal.
Stony Brook (3-5 record) came alive following the score, and with Liotine powering his way and running over Bison defenders, the Seawolves put together a grinding 58-yard drive that was finished off by a 14-yard run by the red-shirt freshman running back. His previous career high was 11 carries for 59 yards.
From there, both defenses took over. The Bison, who have come on strong the past two weeks, stymied the Seawolves and generated at least three chances to get points after having good field positions. Each time, the Stony Brook defense forced long distance and downs situations with sacks, and the Howard offense came away with no points to show for it.
“A young Kalen Johnson just made a couple bad decisions,” said Howard head coach Gary “Flea” Harrell. “Taking sacks when he can’t take sacks. He has to understand how to get rid of the football. And we have to get a running game; the running game just wasn’t there today.”
The Bison finished with minus 42 yards, mostly due to the 88 lost yards in sacks.
The half ended in a 7-3 Stony Brook lead as the defenses dominated. The two teams traded blows in the third quarter with each defense refusing to give in. Then came the break that usually decides these type of games.
Fleck, who punted well all day, bobbled the snap on a punt attempt, picked the ball up and attempted to run, only to be hit and fumble at his own 25-yard line with 1:08 remaining.
It took the Seawolves three plays to capitalize on what would prove to be a crucial Bison mistake as Liotine bolted in from 5 yards to end the third quarter and give his team a 14-3 lead headed into the fourth quarter.
“We made some big plays and of course we thought we would have a chance to win the ball game late,” said Howard head coach Gary Harrell. “But then we had a miscue on a dropped punt that put them up two possession scores. I felt good if we could get to the fourth quarter at 7-3.”
The Bison would again have chances but each time, sacks would force third and longs and Fleck punts. With time running out and a sense of urgency at hand, red-shirt freshman quarterback Kalen Johnson finally got his team going, marching the Bison 65 yards on eight plays, with wide receiver Guy Lemonier hauling in an 18-yard touchdown pass with less than five minutes left.
The Bison would not get the ball again as Stony Brook used its battering ram, Liotine to help run out the clock and end their five-game skid.
“Hats off to Stony Brook as far as taking care of the ball with 2-3 minutes left in the ball game,” noted Harrell. “We just have to get tougher to sustain those types of situations.”
Howard’s Johnson was 15 of 24 on the day for 151 yards and the lone touchdown. Lemonier, who has emerged as the team’s most consistent playmaker, caught a career-high seven passes for 68 yards and his second career touchdown pass.
Next: The Bison return home to Greene Stadium in D.C. for the final home game against the Eagles of North Carolina Central at 1 p.m. It will be Senior Day as 15 seniors will be playing in their final home game in a Bison uniform.
“We just need to get back to winning in MEAC play,” said Harrell. “Let’s win another MEAC game and defend home. We’re looking for an opportunity to go out in front of our crowd, win the game and stay on track. We desperately want to win this game to get back on a winning streak. It’s Senior Day next week. We’re playing for pride and with a sense of urgency.”