Guy Smith ran 89 yards off left tackle for a touchdown on Howard's first play from scrimmage at rain-swept Wilde Lake yesterday. And that was just the beginning.
Smith, a senior running back who has 944 yards rushing, scored on Howard's next series and finished with 210 yards on 29 carries to lead the Lions to an 18-6 victory.
The loss by the three-time defending state Class 1A champion Wildecats virtually eliminated them from the playoffs.
The Lions' win just about clinched a share of their first Howard County championship since 1975 and secured a Class 3A playoff berth. Howard (8-1, 5-1) needs only to beat Mount Hebron next week to claim its share of the county prize. The Vikings are winless in league play.
Smith's first touchdown, run to the short side of the field, was the game's most crucial play. "It gave our offensive line the confidence it needed," Smith said. "It was the most exciting touchdown I've ever scored. Scott Strother gave me a big block."
Howard coach John Quinn said: "There's no doubt that that play set the tone for our kids. We had planned to run to the short side of the field because there's better traction along the sideline. That worked for us last year against Wilde Lake when the game was also played in the rain."
Shawn Sherman and Letam Biira were the two offensive linemen on the left side for the Lions.
Wilde Lake (4-5, 3-3) won the opening coin toss but elected to kick off. And coach Doug DuVall looked like he made the right choice when Howard's Corey Curtis fumbled the kick and fell on it at the 11-yard line.
But that was about the last thing that went right for the Wildecats until the game was out of reach.
After Smith's 89-yard touchdown run, Wilde Lake's offense went nowhere, losing five yards before punting.
Howard then mounted a 63-yard, nine-play touchdown drive capped by Smith's 10-yard touchdown run off tackle to the left side. Smith carried six times for 41 yards on the drive, which was helped by a Wilde Lake pass-interference penalty.
Howard failed on its second straight conversion attempt, but led 12-0 with 4:49 left in the first quarter.
Wilde Lake's offense was held to 17 net yards and one first down in the first half.
The Wildecats fumbled three times in the half but recovered all three. Overall they fumbled seven times in the game but lost only one.
That one was a turning point in the game, however, and came in the third quarter.
Wilde Lake's star running back Mike Green (100 yards, 13 carries) ran 41 yards to Howard's 30-yard line on the Wildecats' first play from scrimmage in the second half.
But on the next play, after a gain of five yards, Green fumbled into the arms of Howard's Dalawn Parrish.
Howard then mounted a 15-play, 71-yard touchdown drive that consumed the rest of the third quarter. Twice Howard elected to gamble on fourth down and short yardage to keep that drive alive.
"I said, heck, this is Wilde Lake. We're pulling out all the stops," Quinn said.
The drive ended on Parrish's 5-yard touchdown run. Howard missed the conversion on an incomplete pass but led 18-0 with 10:30 left in the game.
Wilde Lake later drove 52 yards to Howard's 13-yard line, but the drive ended on Curtis McTavish's interception.
After Howard punted, Wilde Lake drove 37 yards for its only score, a 22-yard run by Green.