Howard High's football team, before nearly 1,500 screaming, pleadingwitnesses Saturday, wiped out a jinx that has come to define the Lions' futility.
By delivering a 27-9 victory over Mount Hebron, the Lions did more than improve their record to 5-1 and keep their playoff hopes alive during their most promising season in a decade.
No, this game meant something much more than that.
Thirteen years had passed since Howard last won a Homecoming game. The Lions ended the drought with a 20-point, second-half explosion to set off a wild celebration.
"It's the first time since I've been here that I've seen anything like it," said Howard coach John Quinn, who suffered through five losing seasons before this year. Quinn's five previous teams had posted a 10-40 record, including a 4-31 mark against the county.
"The stands went nuts and the kids went crazy," Quinn added. "You would've thought we won the World Series. If there was one game I wanted more than any this year, this was the one."
The Lions granted Quinn his wish the way they've done it all year. They negated their lack of size and experience -- the majority of Howard's starters are underclassmen -- with big plays, thanks to the kind of speed the Lions haven't had in years.
The fans had their doubts early. Howard took a slim 7-3 lead into halftime, and Hebron appeared ready to extend the Homecoming skid.
But on the third quarter's first play from scrimmage, sophomore running back Guy Smith ran 60 yards for a touchdown to give the Lions a 14-3 lead.
Then, after Hebron's Travis Hairston ran 74 yards for a TD to close the gap to 14-9 with 5 minutes, 50 seconds left in the period, sophomore Carlton Fox answered witha 60-yard kickoff return. Smith scored on a 15-yard run on the next play to make it 21-9.
The Lions then stopped a Hebron drive late in the third quarter at the Howard 12 on fourth-and-one. After a face-mask penalty against Hebron gave Howard the ball on its 31, junior running back Kirk Wise took over on the ensuing 69-yard march. He carried for seven, 15, 10 and 12 yards before scoring from the 1 with 9:03left.
The Lions rolled up 350 yards on offense, as Smith and Wiseaccounted for 272, combining for nine yards a carry. The defense forced two more turnovers, bringing the season takeaway total to 13. Howard has committed just four turnovers this year.
"When you're a small team, you're not going to pound people too much," Quinn said. "Wego into each game looking for one sustained drive. Then we look for our special teams and defense to give us something to capitalize on. Then we look for big plays from our offense."
That script has served the Lions well. Their defense has three shutouts and has allowed just 25 points in six games. Their offense isn't overpowering people, but by taking such good care of the ball, the Lions' two-touchdown average has proved to be enough.
Next up for Howard is the run-and-shoot offense of Atholton Friday night. Should they pass that test, the Lions might legitimately start dreaming about the playoffs.
No matter what happens the rest of the way, Saturday was no dream.
TheHomecoming jinx is dead.
And Howard High School officially is thehome of exciting football again.