BOWIE -- A 23-yard field goal by Virginia State's Robert Okonkwo on the last play of the game lifted the visiting Trojans over defending Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association champion Bowie State, 20-17, yesterday.
The victory improved Virginia State's (3-1 overall) CIAA Northern Division record to 2-0 and made Bowie State (1-2 overall and 0-2 in the CIAA) a long shot in its try for a second straight conference title.
"This loss really hurt us," Bowie defensive back Steve Smith said. "We knew we had to have it."
It appeared that Bowie was on its way to victory early in the fourth quarter, when junior running back Butch Wilson raced 80 yards to put the Bulldogs ahead for the first time in the game, 17-10.
Bowie had pulled even with the Trojans at 10 on a 24-yard field goal by Mark Fitzpatrick late in the third quarter, then went ahead with 11:28 to play in the final quarter.
It was the second long scoring play for the Bowie offense that spent most of the day sputtering after quarterback Richard Thomas injured his shoulder in the first half.
Thomas, who passed only seven times in the game, completing four for 104 yards, threw for the first Bowie touchdown, 71 yards to senior wide receiver Tony Harrison in the second quarter.
Harrison also played a vital part on the fourth-quarter touchdown. After Wilson slanted through the line and twisted away from several tacklers, Harrison applied the crushing block on the last Trojans defender near midfield that sent Wilson to the end zone.
But Bowie couldn't manage a first down after that, and Virginia State made the most of its late opportunities. First, a 57-yard drive culminated in a 14-yard touchdown run by Clifton Cooper with 4:33 to play. Okonkwo, a senior from New Carrolton, added the extra point to make it 17-17.
The Trojans got the ball back at their 30 with 2:08 to play after Bowie's offense stalled again. And quarterback Gregory Clark, who completed 16 of 41 passes for 220 yards while scrambling away from the Bowie defense all afternoon, marched his team into position for the winning field goal. Okonkwo hit it cleanly after waiting out a series of timeouts with four seconds to go.
"The last drive went just as we wanted it to," Clark said. "We tried to drain the clock as much as we could. When we were down, we tightened up and made the big plays."
The 0-2 mark makes things really tough for a Bowie title repeat, but head coach Sanders Shiver still is confident that his team could win it all if other contenders take turns knocking each other off. "That will happen in this league," Shiver said, "but what we have to do is win our conference games. If we do what we're supposed to do, we'll be all right."