Bye week can’t cure woes as Norfolk State falls to Howard in seventh loss this season

Kendall Warner/The Virginian-Pilot/TNS

The bye week healed some, but lingering wounds reopened.

Norfolk State failed to stop Howard’s powerful offense as the Spartans (1-7, 1-2 MEAC) fell to Howard 49-21 Saturday at Dick Price Stadium.

“I told them I was proud of them for the fight,” Norfolk State coach Dawson Odums said. “I thought they competed at a high level and it just didn’t bounce our way.”

Coming off a bye week the Spartans desperately needed to heal injuries and reset, they started well when Otto Kuhns took a quarterback draw 22 yards on third-and-4 for a touchdown and 7-0 first-quarter lead.

“We got the plays and we know we got the personnel to make it work,” Kuhns said. “We just gotta execute every play. Everybody gotta do their 1/11th. We can’t have one person miss.”

The momentum continued when Joseph White, a former Landstown High standout, intercepted Quinton Williams on the next drive, just NSU’s seventh takeaway all season.

But after a three-and-out, Grandin Wilcox mustered just a 12-yard punt to set up Howard at the NSU 21. Six plays later, Williams hit Antoine Murray in the back of the end zone for a 6-yard score to tie the game at 7.

The Bison (3-5, 2-0) flipped the game when they later embarked on a seven-minute drive that featured four third-down conversions capped by Kasey Hawthorne’s 3-yard scoring run with 25 seconds left in the half.

Howard converted nine of 11 third downs for the game and ran 24 more plays than the Spartans.

“Third down, we just gotta get off the field,” sophomore cornerback Pierre Royster said.

The first half was just a preview as Howard scored touchdowns on five of its seven second-half drives. NSU responded to one of those with a 67-yard touchdown run by freshman Jordin Lennon, a former York standout.

The Spartans continue to deploy a trio of locals as preseason MEAC Offensive Player of the Year J.J. Davis has struggled to find any traction after a breakout season a year ago. He sat out Saturday’s game with an injury.

Lennon, Kevon King (Oscar Smith) and Jaylen White (Phoebus) have ruled the backfield.

“It’s series-based,” Odums said of their rotation plan. “All those guys are gonna get their opportunities. It just depends on what happens when you’re out there. You get a chance to touch it, you might not have success, but the next guy might have success and it’s keeping those guys fresh.”

Locals dot the secondary as well due to injuries to starters Brandon Savage and Justin Toler. In their place, Royster (Lake Taylor), along with White (Landstown) at safety, had a tough matchup against the MEAC’s top-ranked passing offense, but they held the Bison to 147 passing yards, well below their 226.9 average.

“The work ethic is there,” Odums said. “These guys are working hard. They’re stepping in, they’re competing and we understand. It seems like every week, somebody goes down and that’s what’s hard and frustrating.”

Even a sophomore like Royster is asked to be a leader.

“Yeah, but it’s God willing,” Royster said, “so I feel like he ain’t put me in a position that he know I can’t handle, so I just do what I gotta do.”

Three games remain on Norfolk State’s schedule and Kuhns has watched supporters disappear, leaving just him and his teammates to rely on each other.

“If we’re winning ,you got a lot of people on your side,” Kuhns said. “When you’re losing, you only got your brothers on the team, so if you got a problem, you gotta talk to us. People start losing hope in you, they stop talking to you, so we got each other. I’m excited.”

Ray Nimmo, ray.nimmo@pilotonline.com