While the participants in this year’s AT&T Nation’s Football Classic® fell to 0-2 this past Saturday, both felt reason for optimism after holding early leads.
Howard traveled to Piscataway, N.J., and took a 14-0 lead over host Rutgers in the game’s first six minutes. The Bison, though, did not score the rest of the game and lost 52-14.
Hampton, meantime, took an early 7-0 lead on visiting William & Mary and was tied 7-7 at halftime. But the Tribe, ranked 13th in the Football Championship Subdivision, scored two touchdown just more than two minutes apart in the third quarter to pull away for a 24-7 victory.
"We showed we could play with the 13th-ranked team in FCS tonight," Hampton Coach Connell Maynor said. "You can't turn the ball over (two interceptions) or have as many penalties as we had against a team like William & Mary and expect to win."
Hampton’s only touchdown came after a blocked punt, when Eric Carter scored on a 1-yard run less than three minutes into the game.
The key play in Howard’s loss came seconds after the Bison had taken a 14-0 lead on quarterback Kalen Johnson’s 15-yard touchdown run. Janarion Grant fielded the ensuing kickoff and raced 84 yards for a touchdown.
"That was a big turnaround," Howard Coach Gary Harrell said. "Anytime in a football game, you can get a punt return, a blocked kick or anything on special teams, it can deflate the other team and give your team a boost. I wouldn't say it put us in the tank, but it was pretty good momentum boost for them because it put them back into a one-possession game."
After scoring on its first two possessions, including an 89-yard drive capped by Johnson’s 38-yard touchdown pass to Robert Mercer, the Bison failed to score again. Running back Anthony Philyaw, who rushed for 115 yards in the first half, was held to minus-3 yards rushing in the second half.
Howard and Hampton meet on Saturday, Sept. 17 in the AT&T Nation’s Football Classic® at RFK Stadium. Tickets for the AT&T Nation’s Football Classic® begin at $25 and are available at ticketmaster.com.