As a high school football player in Pittsburgh, Greg McGhee wasn’t accustomed to big time crowds. On his first visit to Howard University last spring, McGhee admitted he was somewhat stunned by the sheer size of Washington, D.C.’s inner city campus. But even that astonishment couldn’t compare to the massive audience on hand for his debut as Howard’s freshman starting quarterback.

In their first appearance in the inaugural AT&T Nation’s Football Classic, the Howard University Bison survived a 30-27 grudge match against longtime rival Morehouse College Maroon Tigers at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Sept. 10.

Behind McGhee’ 248 passing yards and three touchdowns, the Bison rallied from a 20-9 second-half deficit to extend their winning streak over Morehouse to four straight. The teams last faced off in 1997, but in front of crowd of 18,409, Howard and Morehouse renewed a rivalry that had been nearly extinct for 14 years due to a lack of sponsorship. But the schools have committed themselves to reviving the longstanding rivalry, and the stands were filled with alum from the Atlanta HCBU who saw a surprising comeback, an entertaining Battle of the Bands and a frantic finish.

Junior running back Brice Charles’ bruising 17-yard run with just over six minutes left in the final quarter put Howard up 30-20. An impressive interception by Bison senior cornerback Lanny Kelly near the corner of the Howard endzone sent the Howard faithful into an uproar, and the game appeared to be in hand.

But Charles was stripped of the football on his next carry and Morehouse junior Latavius Watts dashed 15 yards for a score which brought Morehouse within three points with 2:20 remaining. Howard was forced to punt on their next series, giving the Tigers the ball back deep in their own territory with one last chance.

Morehouse junior quarterback Byron Ingram found senior Derrick Hector in the middle of the field with a 57-yard bomb, but a game-saving tackle stopped the play at Howard’s 25-yard line. With close to 10 seconds left, junior defensive end Alfonso Beale sacked Ingram, ending Morehouse’s day and giving Howard (1-1) their first victory since October of last year and new head coach Gary Harrell his first victory at Howard.

“Even though this is my first win as a head coach, it’s important for the team as far being successful and having confidence going into the conference,” Harrell said.

The victory is one that the first-year head coach and the first-year quarterback can celebrate together. A former Howard football star himself, Harrell’s been tasked with reviving the long-suffering program. After a disastrous 1-10 campaign last year in which poor quarterback play and a constant shuffling of signal-callers left many scratching their heads, it appears that Howard may have finally found a trigger man—and a coach—who aren’t afraid of the big moment.

“Our football games back home never had this many people,” McGhee said. “I was shocked by how many people came out but I was excited. “

A sizeable crowd in the first Nation’s Classic spelled success for the event, which was aimed at highlighting HBCUs. The game is scheduled to feature Morehouse and Howard as opponents through 2013, but could host other HBCUs in the following seasons.

“It was big,” said Tigers coach Rich Freeman. “We’re at a Division II institution with limited exposure. This gave our kids, who always dreamed about being recruited by Division I programs, one weekend to live that life: to be a Division IA player and play on a national stage.”


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO