Washington, DC-Dennis Wiehberg kicked a 28-yard field goal in overtime to give Howard University a 24-21, hard-fought victory over Winston-Salem State University in a non-conference game at Greene Stadium. The win was the first of the season for the Bison (1-3), but more importantly the first in Head Coach Carey Bailey's career.
"I'm pleased with the effort and intensity that we displayed today," explained Coach Bailey. "We finally came together as a team and played a complete game."
Both teams came out shaky at the start, committing early penalties and mistakes that stopped any sustained drives. But Howard finally found its rhythm when senior quarterback Brian Johnson put together an eight-play, 65-yard drive to give his team a 7-0 lead at the 4:15 mark of the first quarter. The drive was capped off on a 12-yard strike from Johnson to Jarahn Williams (4 receptions, 36 yards 2 TDs).
The Bison took advantage of the Rams' early ineffectiveness on offense as their starting quarterback Monte Purvis was on the sidelines nursing an injured shoulder. Behind Johnson's skillful execution of the Spread Offense, Howard put together its longest drive of the season, a 91-yard, 10-play masterpiece that consumed four minutes with Johnson and Williams again capping it off, this time from four yards out. It is the sixth time in four games that that combination has teamed for a TD.
WSSU Coach Kermit Blount had seen enough, so he turned to Purvis who responded with a short drive that he capped off with a 20-yard strike to Jonathan Kinzer that cut the deficit to 14-7 at the half.
The Rams rode that momentum in the second half when Purvis drove his team 97 yards in nine plays to pull his team even at 14-all midway through the third period. Howard aided and abetted WSSU's cause by committing 40 yards of penalties.
The Bison responded, however, when Johnson (20 of 35, 251 yards, 3 TDs) tossed his third TD of the day, this time from 32 yards to a wide open Xavier Fowler with 4:42 left on the clock. It was the first TD for Fowler, a freshman tight end.
Howard stopped the Rams on their ensuing possession and had a chance to run out the clock, but costly penalties gave the Rams the ball back. WSSU (2-3) took advantage of the gift by going 91 yards in only eight plays. The Rams got a break when running back Roderick Fluellen fumbled in the end zone only to have center Javon Hubbard fall on the ball for the TD to tie the score and send it into overtime.
‘We made it more difficult than we needed to," said Bailey. "We lost our eyes a few times and got beat, but when you're playing an athletic quarterback, that's going to happen."
Howard won the coin toss, but deferred and gave the Rams the ball. The Bison defense, which has been maligned all season for giving up big plays, stepped up big and recorded back-to-back-to-back sacks. Senior all-American defensive end Rudy Hardie (4 solos, 6 assists, 4 tackles for losses, 2 sacks) recorded the first for a seven-yard loss. Jarrett Burgess and James Robinson then combined for the next one that resulted in a 15-yard loss. The play itself was not as damaging as the result. Purvis re-injured the shoulder and was forced to go to the sidelines.
"It was nothing I did," admitted Coach Bailey, who works with the defensive line. "The defensive linemen just dominated in the overtime period. I challenged them all week and gave them enough freedom to make plays."
Added WSSU head coach Kermit Blount, "Purvis went down with a shoulder injury. He didn't start because of it and he landed on it wrong during the overtime period. Howard stepped up big late in the game and forced us out of our rhythm. That was the key in overtime."
Jarrett Dunston, who started the game for the injured Purvis, got more of the same. He was treated with a sack by James Carter, forcing a fourth-and-long. Dunston's pass was intercepted by senior cornerback Thomas Claiborn, thus giving Howard the ball at the 25-yard line.
Terry Perry, who finished with a career-high 87 yards on 23 carries, picked up 15 tough yards in the drive to set up Wiehberg's game-winning kick.
"All I was thinking about was keeping my head down," explained Wiehberg, a sophomore from Berlin, Germany. "I knew that if I kept my head down, I was going to make it. It is a great feeling because it was the first game winner in my career and it was the team's first win."
GAME NOTES: Howard, which came into the game with no sacks, recorded seven...the Bison also picked off their first interceptions of the season, with Rickey Jackson and Thomas Claiborn, each getting one...freshman linebacker Patrick Jean Mary had his best game with 5 solos, 3 assists and a sack to go along with 2.5 tackles for losses...James Robinson is also coming on strong...the junior defensive tackle had 8 tackles and 2 sacks...Perry had his finest game with 87 yards on 23 carries...the offensive line did a better job of protection...after giving up 9 sacks in the previous two games, the unit only allowed one up one...Xavier Fowler caught two passes for 85 yards, including a 32-yarder...Howard committed a season-high 13 penalties for 98 yards.
NEXT UP: WSSU plays Florida A&M in the Circle City Classic next Saturday in Indianapolis, IN while the Bison host the Wolves of Cheyney University in a non-conference match-up at 1 pm in Greene Stadium.