Howard University could not have picked a more breathtaking way to ruin Towson State's homecoming.
The Bison came to Minnegan Stadium yesterday, gave up the game's first three touchdowns, committed 15 penalties, turned the ball over five times and trailed for 60 minutes.
Then, they won the game.
Howard quarterback Jay Walker completed a spectacular afternoon in dramatic style when he completed a 9-yard pass to seldom-used receiver Germaine Kohn, who crossed the goal line after time had expired, to give the Bison a stunning, 44-41 victory before 6,076.
It was the fourth-largest crowd to see a game at Towson State, and they picked a memorable day to pack the place. Both teams set offensive records, combining for 1,057 yards, 12 touchdowns and 85 points.
Ultimately the Tigers (4-1) will remember it as the day they had a chance to crack the Division I-AA Top 25 for the first time by knocking off 22nd-ranked Howard (6-0) but could not figure out how to stop Walker and a stirring comeback by the Bison.
Walker, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior transfer from Long Beach State, confounded the Tigers from every angle. He completed 38 of 52 passes for 429 yards -- all school records -- for three touchdowns. He also rushed nine times for a team-high 66 yards, accounting for most of Howard's 612 total yards. And with 59 seconds left and the Bison out of timeouts, he engineered the game-winning, 67-yard drive by completing four passes.
Gary Harrell, who caught a school-record 13 passes for 124 yards, got the Bison in position for the victory with a 16-yard reception that gave Howard the ball at the Tigers' 9. With five seconds left, Walker dropped back and dumped a pass underneath to Kohn, who ran untouched into the end zone with no time on the clock.
It was Kohn's second catch of the day, and his first grab was the game's second-biggest. Four plays before his game-winner, he teamed with Walker for a 34-yard completion that gave Howard a first down at the Towson State 25.
"This is the ultimate in all of my years of coaching football," Howard coach Steve Wilson said. "I've seen tremendous highs and a whole lot of lows. We got down by 21, and it didn't look good. But we beat a very good football team."
Imagine what Walker could have done if he had not had four passes intercepted, including two in the game's first eight minutes to Tigers cornerback Michael Collins that helped the Tigers take a 21-0 lead.
"Any time you have a trigger man like Jay Walker, he can get you back in the game in a hurry," Towson State coach Gordy Combs said. "We never felt like they [Bison] were out of it. You don't beat the people they have beaten without the ability to move the football."
Not that the Tigers didn't cover their share of ground. On a day when defenses hung on for dear life, the Tigers' offense did as it pleased for much of the day.
Senior running back Tony Vinson rushed 29 times for a season-high 224 yards and two touchdowns, including a 70-yarder -- the longest of his career -- that gave the Tigers a 21-0 lead with 2:51 left in the first quarter.
In the process, Vinson took over the school's career rushing record. Early in the fourth quarter, he broke Dan Ricker's record of 1,876 yards. Vinson, who has rushed for more than 200 yards three times in his two-year career at Towson State, has rushed for 1,895 yards in 13 games.
"I don't care about that [the record] right now," said Vinson, who picked up the slack for backfield mate Brian McCarty after he left the game early with a separated shoulder. "When you win a game like this, there's no feeling like it. When you lose a game like this, it's an empty feeling."
Dan Crowley, who entered the game as the top-rated quarterback in Division I-AA, played that way. He completed 12 of 21 passes for 183 yards and four touchdowns -- tying the school record. And he spread the wealth, combining with Vinson, tight end Mike Mazur and wide receivers Tony Hill and Mark Orlando for scores.
The first 30 minutes were a defensive coach's nightmare, as the teams combined for 624 yards and 58 points. By halftime, Walker had shaken off his early problems to pull the Bison to within 34-24, as Howard scored 24 points in the second period.
The Tigers seemed to regain control in the third quarter. Linebacker Mike Arbutina (seven solo tackles) stopped Howard's opening drive by intercepting Walker, giving Towson State the ball at its 21. From there, the Tigers pounded the Bison with Vinson, fresh off a 133-yard showing in the first half.
Five Vinson runs and two face-mask penalties by the Bison pushed the Tigers to the Howard 19. After Orlando caught a 10-yard pass, Vinson swept around the left side and, aided by a great block by Karl Nieberlein, scored a 9-yard touchdown that ++ gave the Tigers a 41-24 lead with 7:22 left in the period.
Howard 0 24 7 13 -- 44
Towson State 21 13 7 0 -- 41