Norfolk, VA—Howard University faces yet another tough opponent as they travel to Norfolk, VA to take on the Spartans of Norfolk State University (1-3, 0-1 in the MEAC), Saturday at 2 pm in Dick Price Stadium.
The game will be carried live on the Howard University Sports Network, wwwwhbc963hd3.com. Trevin Jones will call the action and Mike Lindo and Tiffany Hoyd will provide color commentary.
The Bison (0-4, 0-2 in the MEAC) are still search for their first win of the season after a disappointing 28-24 loss to Morgan State on the road this past Saturday. Howard played its best game of the season, fighting back from an early deficit to tie the game and then take the 24-21 with 4:00 remaining.
But the Bears put together a 69-yard drive and scored the game-winning TD with 30 seconds remaining.
"It was a tough loss for Howard last week," said Norfolk State second year head coach Latrell Scott. "I had a chance to watch the game on ESPN3. I am sure that they're going to come into the game ready to play. They are a well-coached group. The new offensive coordinator (BT Sherman) has kind of energized the offense. And their quarterback is playing better than he did a year ago. They are a good football team even though they have not won a game."
Despite the disappointing setback at Morgan State, there were a number of positives that came out of the game for Howard. The offensive line, which had been maligned the first three games of the season, had its best effort as the Bison rolled up a season-high 216 yards on the ground.
The feat was all the more remarkable considering that the team's top two running backs were out of action. Team- and MEAC-leading rusher Anthony Philyaw did not make the trip due to disciplinary reasons and William Parker (80 yards a TD), who got off to a good start, suffered an injury and missed all of the second half.
But the team got a surprising and much-needed boost from Da'Vaun Johnson and freshman Carlton "CJ" Rainey, who combined for almost 130 yards on the ground.
Quarterback Kalen Johnson rebounded from a shaky first half and showed more consistency and promise in the second stanza, engineering drives that got his team back in the game and compiling almost 200 yards of total offense.
Defensively, the Bison are beat up. Starting middle linebacker Devin Rollins broke his arm in the Hampton game and is done for the season. Starting safety Alonte Dunn, who is having his best season, also missed the Morgan State game along with starting defensive tackle Richard Johnson.
But their absences were offset by the play of junior defensive end Elijah Anglin, senior safety Craig Johnson and junior linebackers David Lee and Jalen Day turned in solid performances, holding Morgan State to its lone second half touchdown and only five first downs.
The Bison offense will have its hands full when it goes up against one of the premier defensive fronts in the MEAC. The Spartans rank among the tops in the MEAC in sacks, scoring defense, rushing defense and interceptions.
"Norfolk State has always been good on defense," said Howard head coach Gary Harrell. Their interior, their front seven is able to apply pressure. "
"They have a tremendous fan base that follows and supports them," added Harrell, in his fifth season at the helm. "You saw the way they played against North Carolina Central (34-31 loss). They made some mistakes, but they fought back to finish the ballgame. They are very resilient and they play well together."
On offense, the Spartans rely on senior quarterback Greg Hankerson, a cagy veteran who has the ability to beat you with his legs or his arm. He was 24 of 36 for almost 300 yards and two TDs in last year's win at Howard.
"Anytime you have a quarterback like Hankerson, it is a big plus," he continued. "He is a veteran guy who we have to keep an eye on. We have to make sure that he holds the ball a little longer than he wants."
The kicking game is a key factor in games is kicking. The Bison got a pleasant surprise in the loss to Morgan. Jordan Griggs, a sophomore and former member of the soccer team, booted field goals of 24, 34 to tie the game and 45 to put the Bison, up 24-21 before losing 28-24.
GAME NOTES: The last two games between the two schools were decided by four points. The Bison dropped a 15-12 decision last year at Howard while the Bison prevailed 37-36 in a dramatic win over then nationally ranked Norfolk State in 2012…HU Bison play by play announcer is a Norfolk State alum…Howard defensive back coach Ron Bolton is also a Norfolk State alum who also once served on the Spartan coaching staff along with defensive coordinator Ray Petty and defensive line coach Bobby Jones.
NEXT UP: Howard entertains Monmouth in its home opener next Saturday at 1 pm in Greene Stadium.