The overriding theme in the last few Nations Football Classic games were the play of the winning team’s signal caller. That would continue, as yet again, a veteran quarterback would turn in a masterful performance. Only this time, it wasn’t Howard that would benefit from that stellar play. The Hampton Pirates have a graduate student at quarterback and he was downright surgical in the victory. David Watford made it look effortless as he engineered an offense that nearly gained 500 yards. The Pirates would trounce the Bison 37-19 behind solid defense, and an outstanding night on the offensive side of things. The Pirates signal caller went 22 of 36 for 279 passing yards and one touchdown, he also scored two with his legs.
From the opening drive it was apparent that the former University of Virginia quarterback was ready to play. He didn’t look rushed or flustered for much of the night, the offensive line was great all night longl and he only left the pocket when he decided it was time to leave. In Hampton’s first appearance in this prestigious event, Watford left a lasting impression en route to winning the Most Valuable Player trophy. His being chosen MVP, continues the trend of this game over the last four years. Veteran signal callers treat this as a showcase for their talents, this time Howard knew what the opposing team felt like when they had to deal with former QB Greg McGhee.
The game started with the Bison having the opening possession, they were unable to do much and had to punt. From that point on, it was all about the Pirates and their Watford powered offense. The started their drive by going play-action and taking a shot downfield, the pass wasn’t complete but it would be the first of many shot plays to come. They followed it up with another play-action, this time the long comback route was complete to Rashawn Proctor. Hampton would take the lead on yet another play-action pass that was nothing short of beautiful. Watford carried out the fake and then kept his eyes right, holding the linebackers and safeties captive, he then calmly looked back to his right and his fullback had slid into the endzone undetected for the first score of the night. The Pirates would lead 13-0 at the end of the first period.
The Bison defense is what kept this game from getting ugly in the first half, the offense just couldn’t get onto the same page. The backs weren’t quite in tune with the offensive line and the QB was just a bit off with the pass catchers. Aquanius Freeman did have flashes, the senior running back went over 100 yards in the first half. He put Howard on the board with a dynamic 35-yard run through the Hampton defense, the Bison would convert the two point conversion to cut the lead to 13-8. That wasn’t the end of the scoring for the half though, Watford would engineer a Pirates drive down to the Bison 27 yard line. There he would use his legs to get the ball down inside the 10. The Pirates 16-8 lead into the intermission thanks to a 30-yard Adam Brown field goal.
The Bison had overcome a lot for it to just be an eight point deficit, they kept themselves in the game with strong defensive plays. Even picking off Watofrd once in the quarter, it was a good play by cornerback Travon Hunt. The also forced a fumble with negated some of their own offensive miscues.
The Pirates cared not for the Howard defense as the opened the second half with a crisp 11-play, 75-yard drive to push the lead to 23-8. Chris Dukes capped the run off with a very physical run for his first score of the season. Both teams would trade turnovers in the quarter, both the Pirates and Bison would lose fumbles. But the inability to get in a rhythm continued to hurt Howard, Jaime Cunningham would try and hit an open receiver on a short drag route, but the ball was delivered behind the open player, resulting in an easy interception for the trailing Brendan Cole. Howard would gain three points on a 39-yard field goal from Fleck to make it 23-11.
The Bison would score again late in the game to end the night with 18 points, Cunningham found Colvin in the endzone for a 19 yard touchdown. It was much too little, far too late for Howard. Prior to that late score, Watford used his legs to score again. He and Mixon almost hooked up for what would have been a 40 plus yard touchdown throw and catch, but the dynamic Mixon dropped what may have been the easiest pass of the night. The two had hooked up on several third and long plays, but missed out on what would have been the longest connection of the evening.
These two teams will now head into conference play, they will meet again next season in this event. For the next calendar year, Hampton has claim to being the “Real HU.”