WASHINGTON, DC — Howard University played its best defensive game of the year and were on the verge of pulling out its first victory of the season, but in the end, the passing combination of Greg Hankerson to Isaac White proved to be the difference as Norfolk State escaped, 15-12 in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game at Greene Stadium.
The game, which was Homecoming for the Bison (0-5, 0-3 MEAC), was a defensive battle from the outset. Neither team could get anything going and the only points in the first 30 minutes came on a safety as Howard led, 2-0 at the half.
The Bison defense, which recorded a season-high eight sacks and held the Spartans to minus 17 yards net rushing, continued to assert itself in the second half and finally got a break when freshman defensive back Johnnie Cooper recovered a Norfolk State fumble that was forced by Kenneth Russ at the Norfolk State 38. But the Bison were unable to capitalize and had to settle for a 40-yard John Fleck field goal that upped the margin to 5-0 early in the third quarter.
After the defense forced a three and out, special teams play again was a factor. Norfolk State punter Bo Lomax mishandled the snap and was tackled at his own 16-yard line, giving the Bison a short field. It was all Donnell Pleasant on the drive as the freshman from San Diego accounted for all the yards, the last six for a TD that made it, 12-0 Howard at the 8:01 mark of the third quarter. It was Pleasant’s first rushing TD.
Apparently it woke up Hankerson and his mates as Norfolk State took the next possession and quickly marched 91 yards in only five plays with Hankerson and White hooking up on a 49-yard TD to get the Spartans back in the game.
Howard had more opportunities to increase the score, but a combination of the Spartans’ defense and penalties kept the Bison offense out of the end zone.
The Howard defense continued its sterling play and refused to let the Norfolk State offense score, as Damon Gresham-Chisholm, Jalen Day, Craig Johnson and David Lee teamed to keep the visitors at bay with timely plays.
Then with 1:53 left on the clock and no timeouts remaining, Hankerson, a Florida Atlantic transfer, moved his team quickly down the field, aided by a huge pass interference penalty that kept the Norfolk State drive alive. The biggest play of the drive was a 21-yard TD pass from Hankerson to White on fourth and four. Six plays later, Hankerson capped off the drive with a six-yard dart to DeAndre Sangster with 41 seconds remaining. He then went to his favorite target, White for the conversion to make it 15-12 Norfolk State.
The Bison got the ball with one timeout remaining and were able to move the ball to the Norfolk State 49-yard line. But a Cunningham pass was intercepted by Sandy Chapman at the NSU 9-yard line.
The Spartans ran out the final seconds and escaped with the win.
On the offensive end, Pleasant, subbing for starter Aquanius Freeman, had another fine game, rushing for 87 yards on 29 carries and a TD.
Defensively, the Bison bottled up the Spartans running game, but Hankerson, who was 24 of 36 for 294 yards and two TDs and White (9 receptions, 145 yards, 1 TD) and Sangster (8 receptions, 91 yards, 1 TD).
Johnson, the MEAC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, had another outstanding game with 8 tackles, a career-high 5 tackles for losses and 2 sacks. Day chipped in with 8 tackles and Gresham Chisholm, who was playing for the first time this season, was a difference maker with 7 tackles, 2 sacks and several plays where he forced errant throws.