A week after being surprised by Centennial, Howard caught a break in the county race with an 8-7 victory over host Hammond.
The Lions (4-1, 1-1) were trailing at the start of the fourth quarter 7-0 when defensive lineman Seth Eldridge gave an emotional lift to their stagnant offense, which had entered the game leading the county in scoring.
Eldridge recovered Hammond tailback Irving Conwell's fumble at the Bears' 14 with 11:52 remaining in the game.
Howard senior running back Guy Smith (11 carries, 46 yards), nursing a bruised left shoulder injured in the third quarter diving for a pass, re-entered the game.
Smith took the first handoff from quarterback Dalawn Parrish (4 for 14, 29 yards) and ran into the end zone for a touchdown that pulled the Lions within a point, 7-6.
On the ensuing point-after try, Howard holder Carlton Fox improvised off a high snap from center. Rolling to his right, Fox squeezed a pass between two Golden Bears defenders to senior running back Scott Strother for a two-point conversion and an 8-7 Howard lead.
"I thought my coach was telling one of our players to call a timeout because he wanted to go for two points," Fox said. "It turned out he was calling for neither and I shouldn't have done it, but the play worked out."
Howard coach John Quinn praised the character of his team, especially Smith, who came into the game with 410 yards and seven touchdowns on 40 carries.
"Guy's incredible. His shoulder's bruised badly and hopefully that's all it is," Quinn said of the Division I prospect.
Although Hammond's senior-dominated defense led by linebacker Jimmy Jackson (13 tackles, one fumble recovery) lived up to its hype, allowing the Lions just 54 yards total offense, Howard's defense matched the Bears hit for hit.
Howard's defense, led by Eldridge (eight tackles), snuffed out Hammond's last two offensive opportunities.
Senior defensive back Brian Bush also played a major hand in shutting down the Bears, breaking up a long pass on fourth down and intercepting his second pass of the second half to end the game at midfield.
"We try to let our defense win the game," Hammond coach Joe Russo said after his team fell to 3-2, 1-1. "But our offense is not too consistent. It makes too many mistakes and that's how we lost today."
Howard's defense, now ranked first in the county in points allowed, broke down just once.
At the close of the first quarter, Hammond sophomore Tim Spruill intercepted Parrish's overthrown, third-down pass at his own 4-yard line.
Spruill (10 carries, 78 yards), playing in his first game, took Price's handoff on first down for a 49-yard jaunt. Fifteen more yards were tacked on for a late hit.
On the next play, Price connected on a swing pass with senior running back Mike Sargent, who broke free down the sideline for a 32-yard touchdown.