It’s always a fiery battle when the Howard Bison and Morgan State Bears meet. But the rivalry received a little extra seasoning Saturday after both teams headed north to play in the New York City Urban League Classic. The appearance of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway adversaries at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., helped frame a major party for historically Black college and university (HBCU) alums in the Big Apple area, even though the two teams started the day with a combined 1-5 record.

Lavish barbecue, letterman jackets and pulsing music ornamented the grounds at the Meadowlands Sports Complex. With the party playing outside, not too many fans stayed inside to see Morgan’s 20-3 win over Howard. Evidenced by the score, the game was a bland match-up of sloppy offenses highlighted by a few splashes of defense. Morgan State’s Rashaude Miller extended a 10-0 lead with an 89-yard interception return with 4:03 left in the second quarter to give Morgan a 17-0 lead that unofficially ended it for the Bison.

Howard’s option offense was stymied all afternoon as the Bears never allowed Howard and starting quarterback Casey Council to get comfortable. Miller’s interception closed out Howard’s only red zone appearance of the day as Council would go on to toss three interceptions before being pulled in the third period. After Bison head coach Carey Bailey inserted true freshman Randy Liggins Jr. at the start of Howard’s second drive in the third quarter, Morgan State turned up the heat defensively and drowned out the Bison’s offense for the rest of the game.

R&B megastar Mary J. Blige made a special appearance at halftime to jumpstart the highlight of the evening: a crowd-pleasing battle of the bands. Presenting a $50,000 scholarship check to a grand prize winner, the 9-time Grammy Award winner made sure to get her point across to an adoring crowd. “Education is power,” she told the crowd. “You know where you’ve been know where you’re going when you’re educated.”

Announcers counted the active crowd at 34,167, but with tailgaters positioned in the parking lot, the actual head count at the stadium was much more. The atmosphere, coupled with a four-hour ride to play a neutral site game was a challenge for both schools, but one that Bears’ head coach Donald Hill-Eley knows presented a great opportunity.

“It’s all about exposure,” Hill-Eley said. “With our football program, we want to afford these young men with the same opportunities that have. You want to teach them how to travel, teach them what to wear and what not to wear. Teach them how to enter into a venue like this and teach them how to play in a venue like this. It’s all about the student-athlete.”

To Hill-Eley, it’s all about the student-athlete. But Saturday at the New Meadowlands Stadium, it was all about the social scene for those in attendance at the New York Urban League Classic.