Howard football holds back furious Archmere rally for thrilling win: Photo gallery
WILMINGTON – Archmere staged a big comeback against Howard on Sept. 24 at Abessinio Stadium, but the Wildcats managed to run out of time on the Auks, earning a 38-34 victory. It was Archmere’s first loss since Dec. 19, 2020 in the DIAA Division II Championship game against Howard, and their first regular season loss in nearly three years.
The Auks rallied from a quick 12-0 start by Howard to take a 14-12 lead, but the Wildcats scored the next 20 points. Quarterback RJ Matthews capped a 10-play, 72-yard run with a 2-yard run around the right end to give the Wildcats an 18-12 lead with just 10 seconds left in the half.
They added to that lead five minutes into the third quarter. Xavier Grier gave the Wildcats six points in quick fashion when he intercepted a pass from Chris Albero and returned it 32 yards into the end zone. A two-run conversion – Howard’s only successful extra-point attempt on six touchdowns – made it 26-14.
Another turnover hurt the Auks when they missed the kickoff return. Sebastian Smith pounced on the loose ball at Archmere 23. The Auks forced a 2-yard loss on first down, but Matthews found Kevin Ford in the left corner of the end zone on the next play for the second touchdown of the Wildcats in 40 seconds. .
It didn’t take long for Archmere to respond. It took them less than three minutes to close the gap to 32-20. From their own 22, the Auks got a 21-yard reception from Albero on the third-and-8, and two penalties on the Wildcats moved the ball to the Howard 22. Albero finished the drive with a 18 strike yards to Ryan. Hagenberg, and the two-point conversion took them down to 32-20.
Howard tried to recover that immediately, but a kickoff return for a touchdown was canceled out by a penalty. Still, the Wildcats were in business at the Auks 45, and they got back to work. Al’Zion Triplett had the big play on the drive, gaining 10 yards on a third down and 8 on the Archmere 19. On the next play, the first of the fourth quarter, Triplett rode up the middle for the score , increasing the feed. at 38-30.
The Auks had to work to recover those points. From their own 15, they mixed runs and passes to move steadily down. Albero helped the cause with a 19-yard rush at third-and-10, and two straight passes to Ryan Hagenberg brought the Auks back to the Howard 28.
A few plays later, on second-and-15 of the Wildcats’ 33, Albero threw to Gavin Lee for 20 yards and a first down. After two misses, Albero took matters into his own hands, rounding the right end for a touchdown with 6:56 to go.
The Auks won the ball back immediately after a successful onside kick, but they lost the ball in tries. After holding the Wildcats, the Auks came back on the attack late in the fourth quarter. They faced a fourth down and 12 of their 31 when Albero rushed in and hit Ryan Hagenberg again. Hagenberg spun in the middle just before midfield. As he approached the Howard 30, he cut to his right, back to his left 10 yards later. Hagenberg dove into the end zone just past a Wildcats defender, and a two-point conversion brought the Auks within four at 38-34.
Another inbound kick failed and Howard was able to miss time to seal the win.
Howard took a 12-0 lead early in the game, taking advantage of Auks turnovers. Archmere fumbled on his first play from scrimmage, putting the Wildcats 10th in the Auks. Matthews finished the short drive with a 2-yard dive just 100 seconds from the start of the game.
The Wildcats started another practice with 4:37 left in the first after picking up another fumble from Archmere. The drive covered 58 yards and included a 22-yard completion from Matthews to Robert Kelly on a third-and-18. Matthews also wrapped up that possession with a 15-yard run.
Justin Hagenberg capped a 65-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to put Archmere on the board, and Albero found Drew Duncan on their next possession, with Duncan making a leaping catch in the back of the end zone then that Archmere went ahead, 14-12.
Howard continued his strong start, improving to 4-0. The Wildcats return to Abessinio Stadium next Saturday, hosting Mount Pleasant at noon.
Albero completed 16 of 31 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns. Ryan Hagenberg caught six of those passes for 153 yards and two scores. Kieran Udovich, in his first game after suffering a knee injury last year, had nine tackles and 1.5 sacks. The Auks (2-1) are at home against Wilmington Friends next Saturday at 2 p.m.
All photos by Jason Winchell unless otherwise noted.