Trailing by six points with just under two minutes remaining before halftime, Roxborough Indians quarterback Eduardo Sanchez lined up as a punter, fielded the snap and decided against kicking the ball back to the MLK Cougars.
Instead, the versatile senior used his feet to run up the sideline in front of the home team and its fans, stopping only when he reached the end zone 80 yards away. He’d then kick the extra point, giving the Indians a 7-6 halftime lead.
The play that energized his team going into a break extended by nearly 20 minutes as the Howard University band was still en route to the Benjamin L. Johnston Memorial Stadium, where they were slated to provide rolicking entertainment for MLK’s home opener.
But the play also represented the only points the Indians would score Friday night.
Tale of two halves
There, the MLK Cougars — debuting their sleek new gold-and-purple home uniforms provided courtesy of the team’s relationship with Dick’s Sporting Goods — would weather a stern halftime lecture about discipline, ego and effort.
They responded in a fashion that brings about 25 unanswered second-half points.
“It was one of those things where the bigness of the event — the home opener, the new uniforms, the Howard University band coming to play — got the better of them,” MLK Head Coach Ed Dunn said of a slow start exacerbated by starting quarterback Nasir Boykin sitting out the first quarter for missing practice earlier in the week.
“They were fighting for it; they’re a really good team,” Dunn said of the Indians. “But we just got back to basics and focused on the game itself, not everything else that was going on.”
The first half
The game’s first 24 minutes saw a defensive struggle, with turnovers and punts amid a pile of penalty flags.
The first points came with 4:31 remaining in the first half when senior MLK wide receiver Nasir Monroe delivered a nifty 16-yard touchdown.
Then came Sanchez’s fake-punt touchdown with 1:55 left, after which MLK threatened but two sacks of Boykin — Roxborough defender Nasir Topping was a disruptive force throughout the game — knocked the Cougars out of scoring range (to the tune of a 3rd and 43 scenario).
When the teams headed to their respective locker rooms, the Indians felt good about their chances as the lethargic Cougars heard how the other side brought a better team effort to the Friday night lights.
That halftime break was extended as the Howard University band’s buses got delayed, turning a midgame show into one that started on the sidelines with dancing, horns and more in the fourth quarter and spilled out onto the postgame field.
The second half
After that unexpected delay, the game quickly got away from the Indians.
First came a 53-yard touchdown reception for junior running back Jann Gunter-Scott, giving MLK a 12-7 lead with 8:39 left in the third quarter.
MLK’s Andrew Jackson then delivered an onside kick that the Cougars recovered.
On a 4th and 11 from the 32, Boykin hit wide receiver Jayni Harris at the four. Harris then spun, reached for the pylon — possibly stepping out of bounds — and gave his team an 18-6 lead just over a minute later.
Junior running back Tyreek Mathis added another touchdown on a 41-yard run with just over seven minutes left in the game and wide receiver Mark McCray closed out the scoring with 3:07 left.
After the game, and the Howard U band performance, Dunn urged his players to “stop trying to be a good team and start trying to be great.” He asked that they not start games like they started this one ever again, as well.
“Discipline means sacrificing your ego,” he said. “We’re not ‘silver spooners.’ We’re fighters. It’s time to get back to that.”
Asked whether the game delays negatively impacted a team that went into halftime with substantial momentum, Roxborough head coach Mike Stanley conceded that he thought so.
But, Stanley refused to blame the outcome on the extended wait.
“I felt like we played a really good first half, especially defensively,” he told NewsWorks. “But then, in the second half, it all came down to big plays. We’d get a stop. Stop, stop, stop. Then they’d get a big play. Stop, stop, stop, then another big play.”
Next up for the MLK Cougars (2-2) is a Saturday night game at Ben Franklin. Roxborough (2-2) visits Northeast High for a Friday night matchup.