Howard senior Nick Formica has a knack for finding the ball. The veteran defensive back and receiver displayed that Friday night when the Lions needed it most.
Oakland Mills was set up deep in the red zone after a fumble recovery. Seven plays later, Scorpions quarterback Kris Rogers scored on a 1-yard quarterback keeper to bring them within two with 9:09 remaining. That set up a potential-game tying two-point conversion, where Rogers escaped the pocket with the play breaking down. He evaded one tackler, but Formica wrapped him up around the ankles for a critical tackle short of the pylon.
The Scorpions never got back to the end zone as the Lions closed out a 14-12 season-opening victory.
“I wasn’t really thinking much,” Formica said. “I was just focused on giving my all to bring him down. That’s what I did. I was really excited after that.”
Oakland Mills had another chance with the ball on their own 20-yard line inside of five minutes remaining. However, Howard’s defense swallowed up Rogers on a 4th-and-6 as the Scorpions turned the ball over on downs. Despite an earlier fumble, Howard’s Darius Moore delivered several critical carries down the stretch to seal the win.
“He’s our bell cow, our go-to guy,” Howard coach Ross Hannon said of Moore. “He’s going to get the ball 20-to-25 times a game. He’s a competitor and all great competitors, they’re resilient. It’s about getting knocked down, but you don’t stay down you’ve got to get back up. He answers the bell and we go right back to him. Same thing if we have a dropped pass or a bad read on a pass we’ll go right back to him.”
Oakland Mills struck first, executing an 8-play, 55-yard touchdown drive to open the game, including a pair of fourth-down conversions. Their last conversion was the highlight play of the drive as senior running back Russell Carrington took the handoff up the middle 36 yards.
Howard’s offense struggled to get going and its starting quarterback, Ben Ansley, got hurt, bringing Dylan Kimmel into the game.
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“I was pretty nervous at first, I wasn’t expecting that at all,” Kimmel said. “I just had to stay ready, but I knew all the plays. I practiced all week long, I was ready. Before the snap I normally take three deep breaths and just try to lock in before the play.”
In need of a spark, Howard’s defense delivered. Moore picked off Rogers near midfield. Feeding off that momentum, Howard orchestrated a 10-play, 55-yard touchdown drive, capped off by a 5-yard score from Moore. He displayed his elusiveness throughout the series, also taking a swing pass 30 yards earlier in the drive.
“I try my best to be as valuable as I can to the team,” Moore said. “Whatever the coaches ask me to do I just do it, no questions asked.”
Coming out of halftime, the Lions defense forced forcing back-to-back three-and-outs, the second of which gave them a short field at the Scorpions’ 35-yard line. Seven plays later, TJ Martin scored from 3 yards out and Mitchell Dickson tacked on the extra point, pushing Howard’s lead to eight.
Oakland Mills battled back within two, but Formica’s clutch tackle and Moore’s elusiveness proved too much down the stretch.
“Just small mistakes here and there,” Oakland Mills coach Thomas Browne said. “We made physical mistakes, mental mistakes and we’re young, we’re going to have growing pains. I feel like our first two drives of the second half really sputtered out and we didn’t get any momentum in there, so that’s tough. I thought the kids had a lot of fight coming down here in the fourth quarter, giving us an opportunity to tie the game and we just didn’t really execute on either of our two-point conversions, missed some things.”