Howard Defense, Special Teams Combine in Win Over Florida A&M
Washington, DC—October 6—Howard University parlayed a rugged defense, some outstanding special teams play and the consistent running of Terrence Leffall into a 17-10 in over Florida A&M University in a key Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game at Greene Stadium.
There was a lot on the line coming into the game as both teams entered undefeated in conference play. The Rattlers (2-4, 2-1 in the MEAC) got on the board first when sophomore quarterback Damien Fleming put together a 10-play, 80-yard drive that was capped off with a beautifully thrown, seven-yard TD pass to Lenworth Lennon on a fade route in the deep right corner of the end zone.
During the drive, Fleming was able to extend several plays with his ability to run and find secondary receivers. Chase Varnadore split the uprights and Florida A&M led, 7-0 with 3:20 left in the first quarter.
Howard (4-1, 3-0 in the MEAC) responded however with a short drive of its own. Florida A&M's defense stiffened and the Bison had to settle for a 48-yard field goal by freshman John Fleck at the 14:11 mark.
From there, the Howard defense, led by senior All American Keith Pough, began to take over, constantly pressuring Fleming into errant throws and sacking him five times. The defense allowed the Bison to play field position and the offense was able to capitalize when sophomore quarterback Greg McGhee connected with junior tight end David Wilson from 31 yards to give Howard 1a 10-7 lead at the half.
"We did a good job of containing their receivers," noted Howard Coach Gary Harrell. "That is the strength of their team, so we put great emphasis on that."
Florida A&M was able to tie the game at 10-10 early in the third quarter when Varnadore connected from 34 yards out with 12:45 left.
In a tightly played game dictated by the defenses, special teams play suddenly became the deciding factor. Junior Brandon Flanagan made what turned out to be a pivotal play when he returned a FAMU punt 42 yards deep in Rattler territory. It took the Bison four plays to score as McGhee capped it off with a one-yard quarterback sneak with 3:36 in the third stanza.
"It all starts in practice," sad McGhee, who played an efficient game in his first start of the season, completing 13 of 20 for 120 yards, a TD and the team's first interception of the season. "We just had to be patient and stay with the game plan. The defense and special teams were outstanding."
The talented Rattler offense tested the Bison defense several times in the fourth quarter but each time, the defense would come up big and Fleck could not have waited for a better time to have the best game of his young career. The freshman from Indianapolis, IN, averaged almost 48 yards on six punts, four landing inside the FAMU 20-yards, including a career-best 60 yarder that pinned the Rattlers at their own one-yard line on their last possession.
Pough came into the game needing 3.5 tackles for losses to break the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly 1-AA) career record of 65. He now has 66. The 6-3, 235-pound red-shirt senior tallied 17 tackles, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a recovered fumble in what was one of the best performances of his career.
"My thinking coming into the game was to not think about breaking or setting records," said Pough. "It's about team defense. I want to thank God, the defensive line, the defensive secondary and the coaches for this victory. It is an unbelievable feeling being 3-0 in the MEAC."
Leffall, a 5-10 senior from Stone Mountain, Ga did not score, but his ability to run between the tackles and set up second and third and short on several possessions, proved to be a key as he finished with 104 yards on 22 carries.
"It was great to be back out there," said Leffall, who rushed for over 100 yards in his only other game this season. "I just wanted to come in and hit the ground running."
Added Harrell," We ran the ball effectively, not like we wanted to. But it's our strength and we will continue to commit to that. Terrence is our guy and we feel confident with him running the ball."
Fleming was 26 of 41 for 228 yards, a TD and an interception, but the Rattlers were not able to run the ball effectively, gaining just 37 yards on 26 carries.