For now, the Howard football team's best weapon may be its special teams unit.
Senior Lamar Parrish returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown, and senior Gerrick McPhearson took a kickoff 85 yards for another score to lift the host Lions to a 20-13 win against Woodlawn in Ellicott City last night.
The Warriors (0-1) had an opportunity to tie the score on the final drive of the game, but fell 6 yards short as time ran out.
The talk afterward centered on the play of the special teams, which didn't surprise Howard coach Vince Parnell.
"We expect those kind of plays from our special teams," he said, estimating that the team spends about 30 minutes of practice concentrating on kickoff and punt returns. "I know that I have the athletes who can go all the way, and that's why we work on those things."
Parrish, who had promised his older brother Dalawn that he would score a touchdown in his first game, ran through a seam along the left hash marks to give the Lions a 6-0 lead with 2:38 gone in the first quarter.
"The hole was there. It was just picture perfect," Parrish said. "I saw daylight and ran through."
The punt return was the only highlight of the first quarter as both offenses struggled.
The Warriors briefly took a 7-6 lead with 20 seconds left in the second quarter. Junior quarterback Mark McKenzie's pass intended for senior wide receiver Allante Harrison was tipped up in the air and caught by senior tight end James Scott.
On the ensuing kickoff, McPhearson, a transfer from Cardinal Gibbons, caught the ball at the 15 and raced down the right hash marks to give the Lions a 12-6 lead at halftime.
In the third quarter, Howard turned to senior fullback Travis Irving, who touched the ball nine times during a 13-play drive that resulted in a 5-yard touchdown run for Irving. He also ran for the two-point conversion.
Irving, who finished with 121 yards on 24 carries, said he is not trying to imitate alum Gerald Smith, who now plays for Penn State.
"There's no more Gerald Smith," Irving said. "I'm in no one's shadow. I'm my own man."
Woodlawn cut the lead to seven on another unusual play. From the Warriors' 43-yard line, McKenzie (10 of 16 completions, 122 yards) passed the ball to junior wide receiver Jerry Brown, but he fumbled the ball at the Lions' 46.
Fortunately, senior fullback Justin Davis scooped up the ball and raced down the left sideline for the touchdown.
Woodlawn nearly tied the game as time ran out, but McKenzie's quarterback sneak was stopped at the 6-yard line.
Warriors coach Reggie White said the key was the two Howard returns for touchdowns.
"Everybody knows that those two scores off special teams hurt us," he said. "We have to tighten up some screws if we're going to make the playoffs."