NEWARK– Mistake-free football can take a team a long way.
It took Howard all the way to the DIAA Division II championship.
The Wildcats feasted on four St. Georges turnovers, and sophomore William Morgan cashed in with three short touchdown runs as Howard won 28-13 for the school’s first state football title on Saturday night at Delaware Stadium.
The fifth-seeded Wildcats (10-3) lost to the top-seeded Hawks 35-14 during the second week of the regular season. But Howard turned it around by holding the Hawks’ powerful running game to 156 yards on 42 carries.
“I thought we did a nice job defensively,” Wildcats coach Dan Ritter said. “We put seven guys at the line of scrimmage when they went wishbone. We tried to get them out of what they do best.”
St. Georges (11-2) was at its best on its opening driving, grinding 58 yards in 12 plays. Fullback Logan Gilbert punched it in from the 1, and Eric Steinbeiser’s PAT gave the Hawks a 7-0 lead.
But the Wildcats also made the most of their opening possession, rolling 56 yards in just six plays. Earnest Austin completed a 17-yard pass to Korey Kent on third-and-15, Gerald Wiggins ripped off a 40-yard run on the next play and Morgan scored from the 1. A two-point run failed, leaving St. Georges up 7-6 with 4:12 left in the first quarter.
The Hawks turned it over on downs, but a holding penalty pushed Howard back to a second-and-23 at the Hawks 37. Austin lofted a pass down the left sideline, and Kent found an extra gear and made a diving catch in the end zone for a 14-7 lead.
“Korey has been doing that all year. It’s amazing,” Ritter said. “We’ll watch the ball go up and say, ‘Aw, there’s no shot,’ and he comes down with it.”
Ritter wasn’t the only one who thought the ball was overthrown. The receiver thought it was too far, too.
“I just kept running and just put my hands out,” Kent said. “Just tried my best to catch the ball.”
Howard’s Malik Banks recovered a St. Georges fumble, but the Wildcats couldn’t score. The Hawks weren’t as lucky the next time.
The Wildcats’ Dante Scrivens pounced on a loose ball at the Hawks 25. Then Morgan covered the distance with four straight runs, the last a 1-yard touchdown. Gerald Wiggins’ two-point run pushed Howard to a 22-7 lead with 2:35 left in the second quarter.
St. Georges took to the air, completing five straight passes to move to a second-and-2 at the Howard 7. But Banks made another fumble recovery to end the threat with 8 seconds left in the half. Still, Howard knew there was a long way to go.
“After halftime, we told ourselves we just had to stay humble, and we had to do what we had to do,” Morgan said.
The Hawks cut into the lead on their second drive of the second half, marching 68 yards in 13 plays. Gary Brightwell’s 29-yard burst up the middle made it 22-13, but the Wildcats stopped the two-point run to keep it a two-possession game going into the fourth quarter.
Howard gained two first downs to eat some clock before Austin’s 39-yard punt rolled to a stop at the St. Georges 5. The desperate Hawks could go nowhere, turning it over on downs at their own 11, and Morgan’s 2-yard touchdown run made it 28-13 with 5:29 to play.
“It’s not what we wanted. It’s tough,” St. Georges coach J.D. Maull said. “We turned the ball over too many times, and Howard played excellent. Their kids were hungry. Our kids were hungry, too, but we just turned the ball over.”
The final turnover came just two plays later, when the Wildcats’ Trevon Bordrick intercepted a pass at the Howard 15. The Wildcats ran for three first downs to chew the final 5:10 off the clock, and the celebration began.
Brightwell led St. Georges with 86 yards on 19 carries. Wiggins rushed 20 times for 94 yards, Morgan added 66 yards on 16 carries and Kent caught six passes for 77 yards for Howard.
The Wildcats had to erase a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter to overcome Wilmington Friends 20-15 in the semifinals. They stuck together again in the final to turn the tables on their Blue Hen Flight B and New Castle County vo-tech rivals.
“They became a closeknit group, and they believe in each other and they push for each other,” Ritter said. “That’s kind of been different than the last couple of years at Howard.
“These guys fight for themselves. I don’t know that we have a superstar. We just have a bunch of great overachievers.”
Contact Brad Myers at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ