Blanden's Running, Passing Leads Howard To First Win
Washington, DC-September 30-Will Blanden ran for a career-high 107 yards and passed for three TDs-also a career best-to lead Howard University to a 34-19 come-from behind win over Fort Valley State University in a non-conference game at Greene Stadium. The win snapped a seven-game losing streak for the Bison (1-3) dating back to last season.
Howard fell behind early when the Wildcats (2-4) took advantage of a Bison miscue that gave them great field position at the Howard 26. Four plays later, Marcus Brooks scored on a one-yard plunge to put FVSU up, 7-0 at the 8:16 mark.
Howard moved the ball on its next two possessions, but each time untimely penalties and mistakes forced them to punt.
Then the Wildcats capitalized on the Bison's misfortunes with Brooks engineering a 48-yard drive, capping it off with a 13-yard scamper. The ensuing PAT failed, but FVSU led 13-0 early in the second quarter.
The Bison moved the ball on their next possession, but again they bogged down and had to settle for a Dennis Wiehberg 25-yard field goal.
Using it as momentum, Howard stopped the Wildcats and gained good field position. But another key penalty forced a second Wiehberg field goal, this time from 34 yards out with 5:01 remaining in the first half. Howard appeared in good shape, trailing only 13-6 when it forced a FVSU turnover.
Then the momentum shifted when the Wildcats' Derr Fitzgerald picked off a Blanden pass and returned it 58 yards down the right sideline for a TD as FVSU took a 19-6 lead at halftime.
Howard may look back on the second half of this game as a turning point in its season.
"The mental attitude of this team changed going into the second half," explained Howard Coach Ray Petty. "We started to play aggressive and we didn't commit the penalties that usually beat us."
The turnaround started with the play of the defensive line which stuffed the Wildcats running game and put tremendous pressure on the quarterbacks. The result was two forced fumbles, three sacks and 0 for 5 on third down conversions in the second half.
"They came out with a formation that caught us by surprise," admitted Howard senior defensive end Rudy Hardie, who finished with 6 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. "In the second half, the coaches put the game in the defensive line's hands and we responded. It was the best effort we have had all season."
On the offensive side, it was Blanden who proved to be the catalyst as he led the Bison to 28 unanswered points. The 5-8 senior from Waterbury, CT kept the Wildcats offbalance with his running and short passes in the newly installed Spread offense.
"With us not having a victory, we still had a lot of question marks," said Petty.
"People questioned the system and some of them (the players) questioned themselves.
Instead of playing aggressive, we hesitated and got ourselves in trouble. But that was not the case in the second half today. Will did a very good job of executing the offense."
Blanden set the tone on the Bison's first possession, taking his team on a 10-play, 60-yard drive, culminating in a 10-yard run by sophomore running back Karlos Whittaker (10 carries, 63 yards) to get within, 19-13 at the 11:01 mark.
Howard's next score came on a Blanden to Terry Perry (4 receptions, 30 yards) pass that covered 27 yards. Wiehberg's kick gave the Bison their first lead at 20-19.
Then Blanden put together perhaps the most impressive drive of the season. Needing some insurance points, Blanden smartly mixed the pass and run and took the Bison on an 11-play, 70-yard drive that ate up four minutes off the clock and more imptantly, gave Howard breathing room at 27-19. The scoring play was a 15-yard hookup between Blanden and Leonard Moore (5 receptions, 47 yards), who recorded the first TD of his career at Howard.
The Bison closed out the scoring when Blanden found Mario Alexander from 23 yards out. A 6-5 red-shirt freshman, Alexander posed problems for the shorter Wildcat defenders all day, drawing at least two interference calls.
NEXT UP: Howard travels to Winston-Salem, NC to take on the Rams of Winston-Salem State University next Saturday at 2 pm.
GAME NOTES: Wiehberg doubled as punter and place kicker and had his best day, averaging 32 yards on four punts, two of which landed inside the 10 while also converting both his field goal attempts and all four of his PATs...the Bison defense held FVSU to under three yards per rushing attempt...Hardie, defensive tackles Edwin Piner and Marvin Wooten, safety Randell Means and linebackers Timothy Lockett and Robert Dowdy all played well...Whittaker (Navy), Moore (West Hill CC) and Alexander (Auburn), all transfers, scored their first touchdowns in a Bison uniform.