Whittaker, Haigler and Mendoza Combine to Lead Howard To First Win
MIAMI, FLA. - Karlos Whittaker rushed for two touchdowns, Floyd Haigler passed for three and John Mendoza kicked three field goals to lead Howard University to a 49-21 win over Savannah State University in the Miami Classic at Traz Powell Stadium. The win was the first of the season for the Bison (1-3).
Whittaker set the tone on the first possession when he capped off a 12-play, 73-yard drive with a 5-yard run. Haigler was a perfect 4-for-4 on the drive.
The Bison wasted little time getting on the board again when Brandon Drayton returned a Savannah State punt 36 yards to set up Whittaker's second TD, this time from 2 yards out. Howard botched both conversions but still lead 12-0.
The Bison tried to surprise the Tigers with an onside kick on the ensuing possession, but the ball went out of bounds, giving Savannah State a short field. It took the Tigers two plays to get back in the game. SSU ran a flea flicker with wide receiver Deleon Hollinger taking a handoff from quarterback Kurvin Curry on a reverse and completing a 30-yard TD pass to Armond Denson who got behind the Bison secondary for the score.
Haigler responded and finished off a 10-play, 61-yard drive with a one-yard plunge to put the lead at 19-7. The 6-2, 210-pound red-shirt junior from Orangeburg, SC, completed 23 of 33 for 314 yards, three TDs and no interceptions.
"I tried to stay efficient, control the game and keep everyone's head in the game," explained Haigler, who has now passed for over 300 yards for the third straight game. "We wanted to take advantage of every chance that we got."
But the Tigers (2-3) were not daunted and their talented freshman quarterback, Curry, took them on an 89-yard drive that was capped off with a 35-yard strike to Hollinger.
It would then turn into somewhat of a seesaw affair as the Bison countered, this time on a 49-yard hookup between Haigler and freshman wide receiver Willie Carter.
Howard would tack on the first of three field goals by Mendoza, this one from 46 yards out. That made it 29-14 with a little under four minutes left before intermission.
Curry refused to let his team fold and he finished off a 54 yard drive with a 10-yard run that narrowed the margin to 29-21 at the half.
The Bison made some adjustments at the half that proved to be effective as they forced three fumbles on the first four possessions and converted them into points while holding SSU scoreless in the final two periods of play.
"After we got chewed out (at halftime), we came out more focused and did what we were supposed to do," said Howard senior middle linebacker Endor Cooper. "We were able to do a much better job of tackling and not letting them make big plays." Cooper, who leads the MEAC in tackles and ranks among the tops in the nation, collected 9 tackles, including a sack and a fumble recovery.
Carter, a 6-3, 190-pound freshman from Denmark, SC, added another TD in the third quarter, this time a 17-yard pass from Haigler. It was the fifth of the season for Carter who continues to impress.
"I felt that I had to step it up tonight," said Carter. "We were 0-3 and it was up to us on offense to pick the defense up. It was good to get a win."
Added Coach Bailey. "He is an impressive freshman; that's all you can say." "He's improving every week. He's fun to be around."
But it was especially fun for the members of the team who were home and made a contribution. Mendoza, a 5-10, 200-pound junior from Central High School in Miami, nailed two 46-yard field goals, career highs and added a third. It marked the first time that he has converted three in one game.
"It really felt great to contribute to our first win," said Mendoza. "To have your family here made it even more special. I just wanted to stay positive."
Ulysses Alexander came into the game for the second straight week and caught a TD pass. The 6-5 junior hails from Northwestern High School. Other Miami natives who made contributions were Brandon Drayton, who returned three punts for 39 yards, one that set up a score, who forced a fumble and had two pass breakups, and Terell Killings, an offensive lineman, who played a part in the Bison rolling up 505 yards of total offense.
NEXT UP: Savannah travels to Atlanta, GA to take on Clark Atlanta next Saturday while the Bison will try to make it two in a row when they travel to Winston-Salem, NC to play the Rams Of Winston-Salem State University next Saturday at 6 pm.