True Freshman Quarterback Powers Bison to 30-29 Victory
Before Jamie Cunningham entered Saturday's AT&T Nation's Football Kickoff Classic, no one outside of his hometown of Greensboro, N.C., had heard of the quarterback. But after his stellar performance last Saturday afternoon, that will likely change.
Howard head coach Gary Harrell turned to Cunningham in the second half of the game to replace starting quarterback Randy Liggins, who threw two touchdown passes in the game, after the junior lost his composure.
Cunningham did not disappoint. With 22 seconds left in the contest, he tossed the game-winning 13-yard touchdown strike to tight end David Wilson who leaped over a Morehouse defender to give the Bison a 30-29 victory over Morehouse on Sept. 1 at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Southeast.
"When the opportunity came [to step in as quarterback] I was ready for it," said the 6-foot-4, 205-pound true freshman.
With 1:54 remaining in the game's final quarter, Morehouse junior quarterback Donnay Ragland connected with redshirt freshman wide receiver Devon Mann for a 72-yard touchdown pass. The quick strike looked to be the game-winning score and the answer to Howard's touchdown just 20 seconds earlier. Morehouse fans erupted in cheers as it looked as if Morehouse would exorcise last year's demons and squeeze out a tight victory.
But Cunningham proved too much for the Maroon Tiger defense and finished the evening 10 for 11 through the air for one touchdown and 79 yards passing. His performance earned him game MVP honors and also marked the second consecutive year that a freshman received the coveted trophy. Calm and collected, Cunningham accepted his new hardware.
"I appreciate the media voting me MVP. I played hard today," Cunningham said post game. "Yeah, I was nervous, but coach [Harrell] told me to stay calm, stay cool and no pressure. We all prepare like we are on the first team so this wasn't anything new."
Saturday's loss was Morehouse's second consecutive to Howard as the Bison defeated the Maroon Tigers 30-27 in last year's inaugural AT&T Nation's Kickoff Classic. Howard holds the all-time series lead at 23-10-2.
"It didn't turn out the way we wanted it to, but my hat goes off to Coach Harrell," said Morehouse head coach Rich Freeman. "My squad made a valiant effort, but it just wasn't enough to get it done today."
Both teams got off to a slow start and showed early-season signs of rust. Howard junior punt returner Brandon Flanagan lost the football on a bobbled punt that Morehouse defenders recovered at Howard's 15-yard line, which gave the Maroon Tigers their best field position of the first quarter. But the drive failed to produce any points as Morehouse freshman kicker Dorian Greene's 32-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
Morehouse broke the stalemate when Greene connected on a 22-yard field goal early in the second quarter, but Howard responded two minutes later when junior quarterback Randy Liggins connected with freshman wide receiver Jonathan Booker on a 50-yard touchdown pass on a perfectly thrown ball that hit the speedy wide receiver in stride and gave Howard a 7-3 lead.
Both teams battled up and down the field for control of the game and swapped the lead six times after Liggins' first touchdown pass. Morehouse moved the ball in workman-like fashion throughout the contest and the Maroon Tigers outgained the Bison 472-317 in yards of total offense.
Morehouse's Ragland was lethal through the air as he gashed the Howard secondary for 238 yards on 14 completions. The Maroon Tigers were just as efficient on the ground as senior running back David Carter amassed 121 yards on 34 carries and scored two touchdowns. But the All-American back's efforts fell short.
"It was such a hard fought game and a tough loss for us too," Carter said after the game. "It was exciting, but it's hard to lose like that. We played as hard as we could."
After his impressive performance last Saturday, Cunningham will start at quarterback for Howard next week as the Bison travel to Rutgers on Sept. 8. But the freshman isn't looking too far ahead. For now, he's just enjoying the moment and the win over Morehouse. As is his head coach.
"My team grew up today. They showed great character," said Harrell. "... it feels good right now. It's the first game of the season and we have the win underneath our belts."