Saturday afternoon’s matchup between the Howard Bison and Hampton Pirates had all the ingredients needed to make an instant Historically Black College and University classic, football, fans, and of course, the bands!
While Hampton vs Howard is usually referred to as “The Battle of The Real HU,” this time around, the game was titled “The Truth and Service Classic.” A new inaugural beginning for a matchup that dates as far back as 1908.
This game marked the 96th meeting between Howard and Hampton. Coming into Saturday Hampton had the winning advantage with an overall record of 53 wins, 41 losses, and 1 tie.
While the game concluded in a Hampton victory over Howard with a score of 48-32, this latest installment of their storied rivalry came chock-full of history-making details. The first historical happening actually came before any whistles had been blown. This was the first time a college football game would be played at Audi Field, home of Major League Soccer’s D.C. United, located in Washington, D.C.
The next moment came to the surprise of more than 14,000 fans that filled up Audi Field.
Vice President Kamala Harris, a Howard alumna, trotted onto the field to take part in the coin toss. The stadium erupted as Harris was escorted on and off the field by Secret Service, as well as by plenty of students all vying for a photo-op with the VP.
Hampton head coach Robert Prunty was touched to witness this special moment in history, alongside his players.
“Anytime in my life that I get to see a Black woman as Vice President, take the same field as me, to be in her presence, to overcome all the different things that any woman has faced, I thought that set the tone for everything,” Prunty said. “It’s always great to see Hampton and Howard get together, everyone’s hollering who is the real HU, but today I thought about my mother when I saw Kamala Harris.”
Hampton vs Howard Game Recap
Howard had won the toss and deferred to Hampton. Hampton elected to receive the ball first and quickly got to work. Hampton’s run game set the tone early on by ripping off an 11-play, 65-yard drive that saw the Pirates take an early lead thanks to an 8-yard red zone rush by Keyondre White with over 10:00 minutes left in the first quarter.
Hampton’s backfield boasts an imposing 1-2-3 punch of running backs, with redshirt sophomores Darran Butts, Keyondre White, and new freshman phenom Elijah Burris, who has impressed early this season.
Burris was named Big South Freshman of The Week after a three-touchdown, 136-yard performance in Hampton’s season-opening win over D-II rival Virginia Union. Butts also had himself a field day in that game recording 143 yards on 11 carries.
Hampton’s defensive line held strong early in the first quarter, forcing the Bison into three consecutive 3-and-out drives. Only towards the end of the first did the Bison finally find their footing on offense.
With under 2:00 minutes left in the first, The Pirates missed a 32-yard field goal attempt on 4th down, giving the Bison some much-needed momentum to build on. Howard QB Quinton Williams then decided to stretch the field, quickly finding success through the air.
A 3-play, 80-yard drive capped with a 28-yard touchdown pass to senior wideout Antoine Murray, saw the Bison tie up the score 7-7 with 8 seconds left on the clock.
In preparation for this game, Bison QB Williams mentioned that in order to find success against the Pirates, they would need to look to widen the defense as much as possible.
“Coming into the game, we knew we just had to start fast and really be physical upfront,” said Williams. “Just taking advantage of our matchups on the perimeter was a big focus this week.”
The first quarter had ended with a 7-7 tie as each team seemed to be settling into their game plans.
If the first quarter was a chess match, the second unfolded into more of a boxing match with each team going blow for blow on big plays. While Hampton was content to use its run game to chew up the clock and time of possession, it seemed that Howard had identified some weak points in the Pirates coverage and began to exploit those areas with each ensuing drive.
At the top of the second quarter, after the Bison defense pinned the Pirates into a 4th and inches situation, a false start by the Pirates offense seemed to galvanize the Bison even more as Hampton was forced to punt the ball.
After consecutive punts by both teams to start the second, Hampton QB Jett Duffey took matters into his own hands. On the first play of that drive, Duffey kept the ball on a quarterback keeper but found no gain. On the very next play, Duffey connected with junior wideout Jadakis Bonds for a 33-yard touchdown pass to see the Pirates go up 14-7.
Duffey had dropped back and noticed a wide-open Bonds streaking towards the post, hitting him in stride for the quick easy score.
But the back and forth continued: just as Hampton had found a score, the Bison were quick to answer back.
On Howard’s next drive, they continued to attack the sidelines, after not finding much success through the run. Sticking to the passing game, Williams found tight end Thomas Vi on a 16-yard dart that resulted in a touchdown. Another 8-play, 75-yard drive for the Bison had tied the game yet again at 14 all.
Mental mistakes and lapses of concentration on both sides of the ball allowed each team’s offense to capitalize on the other’s defense. By the end of the second quarter, the score was 21-17 in Hampton’s favor.
Hampton vs Howard Halftime
At HBCUs, the marching band is known as the “Heroes of Halftime.” The performances put on display at each HBCU football game are the perfect embodiment of all the soul, spirit, and passion that makes HBCU culture so infectious.
In fact, some students choose which HBCU to attend solely based on the strength of that particular school’s marching band.
To no one’s surprise at all, the Battle of the Bands between Howard’s “Showtime” marching band and Hampton’s “Marching Force” did not disappoint.
The Hampton University Marching Force is recognized around the world. With memorable performances in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and in the New Year’s Day Parade In Rome, Italy.
Aside from the many instruments among The Marching Force, the collective consists of subsections like the S.I.L.K.Y. Flag Line, the Ebony Fire Dance Team, and the S.T.I.C.K.Y. Situation Drumline.
Hampton’s coach Prunty must have given his defense quite the speech during halftime because the Pirates came out swinging. Capitalizing on three turnovers made by the Bison offense, the Pirates found themselves up by 3 touchdowns by end of the quarter.
Hampton’s second touchdown of that quarter was one for the history books.
Duffey lasered a pass to senior wideout Hezekiah Grimsley who made a hard cut on a post route, caught the ball in stride, and turned on the afterburners for a 95-yard score without being touched. That play made for the longest touchdown catch in Big South history.
The theme of Hampton’s dominant defense continued for the rest of the third quarter, as well as a continued showing by Hampton’s powerful running backs.
Butts ripped off a 43-yard tumbling run where he started up the gut and bounced out left streaking down the sideline in what seemed like the final nail in the coffin as Hampton went up 42-17.
Darran Butts knew coming into this second half that if Hampton stuck to the success they had earlier in the game by sticking to the run, that it would wear down the Bison defense.
“I was confident,” Butts said after the game. “I feel like we have the best offensive line and they created the space for me to show what I can do, we had a great week of practice so I knew that would translate on the field.”
After watching Hampton capitalize for 2 big scores on each of the Bison’s fumbles in this quarter, quarterback Williams rolled the dice through the air desperately trying to turn the game around for Howard.
At halftime, however, the Pirates defensive coaches identified some weaknesses in Williams’s play and had a plan in place to capitalize.
Keeping in mind his coach’s instructions, Hampton linebacker DeAndre Faulk made a crucial interception that took the wind right out of the Bison’s sails.
“I was just reading my keys, my coach kept expressing the concept of routes and it came back to me on that particular play,” said Faulk. “I noticed that the QB tended to stare down his receivers and that took me right to the interception.”
With a 42-17 Pirate lead heading into the final quarter, some demoralized Bison fans had started to head towards the exit. However, Bison head coach Larry Scott wasn’t ready to throw in the towel.
Scott kept his team focused and his players responded in kind showing grit. Before long, Howard had managed to score twice more in the fourth but simply had too much to overcome.
Williams connected with wideout Kasey Hawthorne on a 22-yard dart at the top of the fourth quarter with 10:36 left in the fourth.
Howard finally scored their first rushing touchdown of the game as sophomore running back Jarett Hunter found pay dirt after an 8-yard rush.
“Our guys were right there in it,” Scott said. “Time ran out on us and we had too many self-inflicted wounds.”
Despite Howard’s last-minute push deep in the 4th quarter, Hampton killed off the game with Burris’ second rushing touchdown of the afternoon. An 8-yard punch for a score that came with 2:00 left in the 4th quarter.
“I have so much faith in my offensive line,” said Burris. “They keep me calm, cool, and collected and ready to get the job done each week.”
In the end, both teams left it all on the field in the first inaugural “Truth and Service Classic.” Bison QB Williams had himself a personal best day through the air as Howard ended with 357 passing yards and 23 rushes for 73 yards on the ground.
The Pirates accomplished their game plan of bruising runs gaining 253 rushing yards on 50 attempts, and accumulating another 300 passing yards to balance the offensive output.
While the game ended 48-32 in Hampton’s favor, the battle for “The Real HU” will never be settled. For HBCU alum, these matchups aren’t just petty rivalries, but a homecoming of old friends and respected colleagues.
Games like this turn into a massive networking mixer for all generations of the HBCU family to update friends on accomplishments, and a place to reminisce on the fun times shared between rivals.
As media personality Roland Martin, who attended Saturday’s game, put it: “For African Americans, HBCU games are a culture, it’s not just about what happens on the field.”
Howard now 0-3, will head into this next week licking their wounds as they prepare to face Robert Morris next Saturday, September 25th.
Hampton will enjoy this upcoming bye week as they will look to improve on their 2-1 record when taking on Norfolk State University on October 2, in another hotly contested HBCU matchup known as “The Battle of the Bay.”
Jonathan C. Scott is a graduating senior at Hampton University, majoring in Journalism with a minor in Cinema Studies from Brooklyn, NY. Jonathan served 4 years in the US Navy prior to attending Hampton and has since found a passion for journalism and sports writing taking him through internships at ESPN’s The Undefeated and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. You can follow Jonathan on Instagram and Twitter @MediaJonny.