O.J. Howard isn’t the type to demand the football.
He’s more of a player who allows for the game to take its course and capitalize on opportunities when presented.
That all changed on Friday night.
“I tried to take over a little bit because I really want to win a state championship,” Howard said. “I just wanted to step up in key moments and keep the team energized and motivated. We’ve done all the good things, there’s only the great thing left and that’s to win a state championship.”
Howard hauled in three touchdowns from teammate London Maynard and came up with several stops on defense to help propel Autauga Academy to a 28-12 victory over Patrician in the opening round of the AISA Class AA playoffs.
The two-time All-State star caught eight passes for yards 118 yards. He also finished with nine tackles, two sacks and one pass deflection to help get the Generals (10-1) within a game away of returning to the state championship game at Troy’s Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“One-on-one, I think I can probably get anybody, I’ve always had that mindset,” said Howard, an Alabama commitment. “I told London if he sees me early, don’t hesitate to throw it up, and I’ll go get it.”
Tied 6-6 with 1:46 remaining in the first half, Autauga used its hurry-up offense to grab the lead heading into the locker room. Maynard’s 33-yard strike to Nick Tillery on third-and-7 kept the drive alive, and Howard scored on the next play — an 18-yard pass in the right corner of the end zone with 28 seconds left.
Hunter Wainwright hauled in the two-point conversion.
It was basically much of the same following the break. Maynard connected with Howard for touchdown passes of 16 and 14 yards over the final two quarters to cancel any hopes of Patrician (7-4) extending its 2012 campaign beyond the first round.
“It’s hard to prepare for a player of that caliber,” Saints head coach Jonathan Lindsey said of Howard. “He’s an outstanding athlete, and I wish him luck in everything that he does.”
Generals head coach Mike Sims said he’s seen Howard more determined since returning from the injured list. The 17-year-old senior was sidelined for four games midway through the season due to a bruised left MCL suffered against East Memorial on Sept. 7
“O.J. felt like he’s had something to prove since coming back off injury,” Sims said. “We didn’t disclose his injury for personal reasons and he heard some stuff on social media, kids do that these days, and that kind of lit the fire under him.”
The 6-foot-6 star now has 12 TDs since returning from injury.
But Patrician had a chance early to potentially derail Howard and his teammate’s season.
A bad snap by Autauga on fourth down allowed for Lindsey’s squad to take over at the Generals’ 27. However, two plays later, a poorly called halfback pass was intercepted by Tillery with 5:30 left in the second quarter, killing any momentum the Saints had going.
“We saw some things that we could have run,” said Lindsey, whose team was defeated 54-12 by Edgewood in the last year’s Class AA title matchup. “Hindsight 20-20; yeah, we should’ve run it, but that’s that way it goes sometimes. I made that mistake.”
The Generals drove 66 yards and scored on the game’s opening drove when Eric Graham busted up the middle for a 3-yard touchdown with 8:06 in the first. Autauga will travel to Clarke Prep next week to play for the right to advance to the title game.