Special Teams and Youth Doom Howard In Truth and Service Classic

Howard looked like they could pull off the upset, but the Crimson’s experienced took over as the Bison continue to grow under Coach Larry Scott

Jaylon Tolbert passes in the face of the Harvard rush
Source: David Sierra/Howard Athletics

There was a special feel throughout the Truth and Service Classic, but perhaps no more special feel than when Howard drove 63 yards in 53 seconds to tie the game at 17 before halftime. I know I thought to myself, "The Bison are going to do it. They’re going to pull one of the greatest upsets in MEAC history".

Then reality and experience set in. Harvard has been no stranger to deficits this season, having to come back from 14 down against Merrimack and just like they did against the Warriors, the Crimson outlasted the Bison. A quick four-play drive from the Crimson, punctuated by a Charlie Dean touchdown pass to Ledger Hatch took the air out of the Howard faithful at Audi Field. From there, Aidan Borguet and the Crimson ground game wore down the Bison as they scored 24 unanswered.

A Jaylon Tolbert interception helped put the Bison in a 10-0 hole at the end of the first quarter and the Bison lost the field position battle early on with a 14-yard punt and a 33-yard one, digging the Bison in a hole. Special teams hardly got any better in the second half as a blocked punt made it a two-score game in the third quarter, likely serving as the death blow for the Bison.

Tolbert and the Bison offense showed flashes, but Tolbert’s youth showed in some of his decision-making as he threw two interceptions. Luckily, Tolbert was still solid against one of the FCS’ top defenses, throwing for over 200 yards and two touchdowns. The Bison have their quarterback of the future once Quinton Williams departs this year.

Harvard had struggled with mobile quarterbacks so far this season, as Matt Sluka ran for 64 non-sack yards and Jameson Wang ran for 82 and three touchdowns against the Crimson earlier in the year. One has to wonder how much of a spark the Bison could have had early on if they called more quarterback run plays. Jaylan Tolbert only had three designed runs called and the Bison only ran Kasey Hawthorne out of the Wildcat four times with him handing off to Ian Wheeler another time. While the lack of carries for Tolbert makes sense, the Bison could have run Hawthorne more as he ran for 17 carries for 98 yards before the Crimson game.

While it is easy to be hard on the Bison, they look set for the future. The Bison have been competitive in every game, staying within one score in the third quarter against USF, losing to Yale by 8, and losing competitive games to Alabama State and Hampton.

In the games against Harvard and South Florida, more depth and experience would have kept the Bison in those games in the second half. Expect the Bison to pull an upset or two in the MEAC as this young team grows throughout the year.