WASHINGTON, DC — Greg McGhee turned in another spectacular effort, accounting for all of his team’s offense and staging a furious second half rally before time ran out as Howard University fell 31-28 to Florida A&M before an overflow Homecoming crowd at Greene Stadium.
The Bison (1-7, 0-4 MEAC) are still looking for their first MEAC win after dropping their fifth straight.
The Rattlers (2-5, 2-1 MEAC) captured their second straight win and put them in the crowded MEAC race.
Howard got to a fast start when Tavius Brown returned the opening kickoff 86 yards with only 12 ticks off the clock.
On the ensuing possession, the Rattlers appeared to have jitters, fumbling the kickoff before getting it back and bobbling a snap on their first play from scrimmage.
But from there, Florida A&M settled in and set the tone for the next 30 minutes.
Florida A&M senior quarterback Damien Fleming engineered a 10 play, 62-yard drive that was capped off with his 8-yard pass to Zachary Webster to tie the game at 7-7.
A Howard punt traveled only 12 yards, giving Florida A&M possession at the Bison 18.
However, Howard was able to hold on downs and Florida A&M had to settle for a 27-yard Chase Varnadore field goal to make the score 10-7.
The Bison would have special teams problems all day.
They had a costly miscue on their next possession when punter John Fleck failed to field the snap and was tackled at the FAMU 6-yard line. It did not take Fleming long as he found Casey Glines to up the score to 17-7 at the start the third quarter.
Howard finally got something going on its next possession, moving the ball smartly from its own 25 down to the Florida A&M 29.
But John Boston intercepted a McGhee pass that snuffed out the drive and gave the ball back to the Rattlers. Fleming put together another drive, this time for 79 yards on nine plays. He punched it in from the one-yard line to increase the lead to 24-7 at the half.
“For some reason, we come out each game and start slow,” said a puzzled Howard head Coach Gary Harrell. “We don’t seem to be as focused and we fall behind by two and three touchdowns before we respond. We are still working to come out stronger and play for four quarters on offense, defense and special teams.”
The Bison stopped the Rattlers on their first second half possession with a three and out. Howard appeared to be in good position, moving the ball to the Florida A&M 49.
But disaster struck again when there was a bad exchange between the center and McGhee that resulted in a fumble.
Fleming made the Bison pay, finishing off a 45-yard drive with a one-yard plunge to up the margin to 31-7 midway through the third quarter.
From there, McGhee began to take over.
The 6-3 senior from Pittsburgh, Pa. first took his team 78 yards in only six plays. He connected with Robert Mercer from 17 yards on the TD play to cut FAMU’s lead to 31-14.
The Howard defense began to stop the Rattlers, who were playing briefly without Fleming, who had his ankle taped.
McGhee took advantage of the opportunity, putting together a 13-play, 66-yard drive that was capped off with a one-yard toss to Myles Williams for his first TD of his career. That narrowed the deficit to 31-21 with 6:55 left in the fourth quarter.
The Bison appeared to have an ominous task when a Florida A&M punt landed at the four-yard line. McGhee effortlessly put together a 96-yard drive — the longest of the season — that took only 1:23 off the clock. The drive was culminated by a 29-yard pass to Richard Aiyegoro with 2:25 left.
But that would prove to be the final score as Fleming returned to the field and helped the Rattlers run out the clock and seal the victory.
“We made some halftime adjustments and were able to have some success in moving the ball,” said Harrell. “With all the injuries that we have had and some of our other problems, I was proud of the way that we were able to fight back. We got to within three and just ran out of time.”
Added McGhee, who suffered a scary knee injury but returned to action, “Down 31-7, I was thinking that we have to have a sense of urgency. When I was on that turf, something went off in my head that we had to get it going. It seemed like the team fed off of my energy and we were able to play better.”
The Bison, who were held to a season-low one yard of total offense in the first half, got 399 yards of total offense from McGhee in the second half.
He rushed for a game-high 141 yards on 20 carries and connected on 22 of 31 for 258 yards and three TDs.
“Greg’s will to win is tremendous,” praised Florida A&M head coach Earl Holmes. “Coach Harrell’s team fights hard. McGhee did some things with his feet that kept HU in the game. He is the MEAC Preseason Player of the Year for a reason. The kid is flat out that good. If you can’t do anything to contain him, then you will lose to Howard.”
Fleming led the Rattlers’ offensive attack, rushing for 65 yards and two TDs while also passing for 16 of 23 for 164 yards and two TDs.
“You have to take your hat off to FAMU,” said Harrell. “They came in with a good game plan and schemes and came out with the win.”