Leading by a touchdown, Howard football coach Ross Hannon called a timeout as Reservoir faced a critical fourth-and-6 inside Lions territory.
Hannon repeated, “Fourth down, money down,” as the Lions’ defense took the field inside of six minutes remaining. They delivered.
Middle linebacker Alex Dua read the eyes of Reservoir quarterback Jordan Tate and came up with an interception, the Gators’ third turnover of the evening. Howard’s defense was opportunistic throughout, forcing four turnovers in its 7-0 victory over Reservoir.
“My other linebacker Connor Hunter, he was told to blitz the outside C-gap,” Dua said. “Coach came over to me and he tells me, ‘You’re watching the quarterback, don’t take your eyes off him.’ I saw him turn to the left, I picked it off and I ran it back. It was a great call by the coaches.”
Hannon was pleased with how his defense responded on fourth down throughout the game.
“To be the man, you got to beat the man,” Hannon said. “Fourth down, that’s mono e mono. You got to win those big downs. It’s critical, we played so hard.”
The first half was a struggle offensively for both teams as they combined for seven punts. Both defensive lines were stout stopping the run, and neither team’s passing attack found success.
Howard’s best opportunity of the opening half came inside the final minute. Quarterback Tyler Sabatini found Connor Hawkins over the middle for a 71-yard score, but the play was called back due to a block in the back.
Struggling to move the ball consistently, Howard (2-1) turned to its defense for a spark in the second half. On Reservoir’s second offensive play of the half, Dylan Tresee recovered a Gators fumble at Reservoir’s 27-yard line.
Eight plays later, the Lions capitalized on the short field with the game’s only touchdown. Sabatini connected with freshman wide receiver Darius Moore for a 15-yard score. Moore toe-tapped the sideline and extended the football over the pylon.
“It felt great because it was my first touchdown of the season,” Moore said. “Just my coaches trusting me to give that to me, it felt great.”
Reservoir responded with its strongest drive of the game up to that point. The Gators brought the ball into Howard territory and faced a fourth-and-2 on the 31-yard line. However, Tate’s pass fell incomplete and the Lions took over on downs.
Reservoir’s defense gave its offense another shot, recovering a fumble on the Lions’ ensuing possession. However, the Gators (1-2) were unable to take advantage, as a fumbled exchange was once again recovered by Howard.
The Gators’ defense continued to hold strong in the fourth quarter, but the offense couldn’t avoid mistakes. Dua’s interception halted another Reservoir drive just outside the red zone.
Howard’s offense needed to string together consecutive first downs to eat up the clock. Sabatini connected with Zamir Herald for a 20-yard gain, keeping its drive alive inside of four minutes remaining.
Howard was ultimately forced to punt, but Reservoir faced a daunting challenge. The Gators needed to go 84 yards inside of 90 seconds with just one timeout. Tate’s deep shot on first down was intercepted by Nick Formica, clinching the Lions’ victory.
“You can’t recover from four turnovers all the time,” Reservoir coach Bryan Cole said. “We had two interceptions and two fumbles at key moments of the game too. It’s a tough sport when you’ve got that going on.”