By Jim Flick
In a game that featured an outstanding performance by one of the area’s best offensive players, running back De’Veon Smith led Howland to a 41-14 win over Niles on Friday night.
Smith, a junior, gained 277 yards on 24 carries and scored three touchdowns, on scampers of 55 and 6 yards, and a 1-yard dive into the end zone. Ironically, Smith failed to score on his longest run of the night, a 73-yard dash that gave Howland (8-0, 4-0 All-American Conference) a first-and-goal on the 4.
Nine other backs combined to rush for another 110 yards for the Tigers, while junior quarterback Eric Lockney completed 7 of 11 passes for 68 yards.
For Niles (4-4, 1-2), Tommy Duffy was the leading rusher, gaining 59 yards on 14. Senior quarterback Zack Bailey completed 10 of 19 passes for 67.
Howland coach Dick Angle said Smith “is real strong, he’s very athletic and he’s a great team player. He’s a leader on and off the field.”
The coach insisted that his team’s line play was the key to the win.
“I thought our offensive and defensive lines played really well. “We can hurt a lot of different ways. We’re a run team first, we always have been, but we can throw the ball, too.”
The victory against a conference opponent gave Howland the title in the AAC Red Tier, and Angle said, “It’s great to win the championship the second year in a row.”
“We were moving the ball early,” Niles coach Brad Yeager said, “but we made a couple is mistakes at crucial times.”
After fielding the game’s opening kickoff, Niles moved the ball well, gaining three first downs Bailey tossed an interception.
The Tigers scored the game’s first points after the turnover, when Lockney tossed a 14-yard touchdown pass to junior Brendan Cope.
Howland poured it on in the second quarter. Smith gave Howland two touchdowns before the Red Dragons put their first points on the board, when Bailey tossed an 11-yard touchdown pass to senior Dillon Palmer.
But after Niles scored, Smith got loose for his 73-yard game, which set up Cope’s second touchdown catch of the game.
Cope’s catch, and extra points by kicker Conner Gilmour, gave Howland a 28-7 halftime lead.
Smith scored on a 6-yard run in the third quarter to give the Tigers a 35-7 lead.
Bailey tossed a second touchdown pass to Palmer later in the third quarter and Tony Osborne closed the scoring for Howland.