Howard University took the second annual AT&T Nation’s Football Classic with a 30-29 victory over Morehouse College on a fourth –quarter touchdown Sept. 1.
In a thrilling, tightly-contested game with eight lead changes, Howard pulled away to win their first game of the 2012 college football season at RFK Stadium in Northeast Washington, D.C.
Morehouse scored first with a short field goal by freshman kicker Dorian Greene, giving them a 3-0 lead at the top of the second quarter. Morehouse’s field goal came after a first-quarter attempt was blocked.
But Howard responded immediately on the next drive as junior quarterback Randy Liggins tossed a 50-yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Justin Boyd, taking a 7-3 lead. Liggin’s touchdown pass was beautifully orchestrated on a play-action rollout play. Liggins connected with Boyd in stride and Boyd sped past defenders for the game’s first touchdown.
It didn’t take Morehouse long to answer, however, as they drove down the field on the next possession and scored their first touchdown of the game on a short run by sophomore running back Shelton Hamilton to retake the lead, 10-7.
Howard came right back on the next possession and scored another touchdown, this time a 42-yard pass from Liggins to freshman tight end Brandon Flanagan. The score gave Howard a 14-10 lead at halftime.
Howard extended its lead to 17-10 after a short field goal by freshman kicker Matt Jacobs in the first few minutes of the third quarter. But Morehouse went on to dominate Howard for the rest of the quarter, scoring two touchdowns in less than 10 minutes of action.
Morehouse senior running back David Carter rushed for two touchdown runs during the period, and went on to finish the game with 121 yards on 34 carries.
Howard head coach Gary Harrell benched Liggins midway through the third quarter and put freshman quarterback Jamie Cunningham in the game. After a sluggish start, the freshman got the got the offense rolling, leading Howard on a scoring drive capped with a short touchdown run by freshman running back William Parker. The score gave Howard a 24-23 lead with only two minutes left in the game.
That’s when it really got exciting. Morehouse came back to score on the very first play of their next offensive possession with a 73-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Donnay Ragland to freshman receiver Devon Mann, retaking the lead 29-23. Ragland completed 14-of-25 passes for 238 yards and a touchdown.
Morehouse’s lead, however, lasted only seconds, before Cunningham marched Howard’s offense down the field on the ensuing drive for a game-winning touchdown pass to junior tight end David Wilson.
Cunningham was named the Most Valuable Player of the Game for his late-game efforts; he finished 10-of-11 for 79 yards and game-deciding touchdown.
Harrell explained after the game why he pulled Liggins for Cunningham. “We had seen a lot of good things from Jamie [Cunningham] in practice so we always looked at him as the future star of this team; he’s a great athlete that can and has a strong arm, but he was still inconsistent with his mechanics so we went with the veteran in Randy [Liggins],” Harrell said.
“Randy did a good job starting the game for us but he beat himself up too much later in the game after making some mistakes and lost his composure so we had to make the switch to Jamie.”
Harrell said after seeing Cunningham handle himself well in the game, he feels more confident in playing the true freshman and will give him the start as they head into their next matchup against Rutgers scheduled for Sept. 8.
Excitement before the game…
There were just as many people outside of RFK Stadium partying during AT&T Nation’s Football Classic Fan Festival, which ran from 11 a.m. until kickoff of the game. Students and alum from both Howard and Morehouse mingled as WPGC 95.5 FM radio station played music for every one in attendance.
Morehouse junior Winston Roberts told the AFRO that he and his buddies flew in from Atlanta to attend the Classic. Roberts said the game was great but said he enjoyed the debate between Howard and Morehouse on Friday Aug. 31 even more.
“The debate was excellent,” Roberts said. “It was an exhibition so no winner was declared, but we all know that Morehouse really won.”
Howard sophomores Kaia Jones, a business major, and Sabrina Williams, a finance major, volunteered as assistants during the Fan Festival; they both joined fellow HU sophomore Rachael Solomon at the Fan Festival face-painting section to help show off their school pride.
The 2012 Mr. and Ms. Howard University, Chinedu Okpala and Leovina Charles, also made a grand appearance at the pregame Fan Festival.
“This is a great experience to be a part of,” Charles told the AFRO. “Howard vs. Morehouse; it doesn’t get any better than this!”