Howard coach Michael Calloway would admit, especially after Friday night, that sometimes it is better to receive a gift than to give one. On a football field, for certain.
With Calloway's Hustlin' Tigers nursing a slim lead late in the fourth quarter, Brainerd running back Jacoby Ramsey broke up the middle and raced for what looked to be a go-ahead score. Ramsey was met by two Howard defenders at the 1-yard line. The ball popped free and Howard's Chris Walton recovered and preserved a 14-13 victory at Gaston Stadium.
"We got a gift when that ball came loose there in the fourth quarter," Calloway said after the game. "We could not stop the run all night, and it looked like that play would have been the difference. Our kids kept fighting, though. The ball didn't just come out on its own. We hit him pretty good at the goal line."
Calloway said the Tigers (2-4) have won the fourth quarter in almost every game. That confidence was there when they needed it late.
Brainerd (1-5) trailed 8-7 at halftime and came out determined to win the game on the ground. The Panthers rolled up 265 yards rushing. Getting into the end zone proved more difficult.
The visitors took a 13-8 lead when quarterback Sam Caffey hit Ramsey on a 27-yard scoring pass with 1:28 to go in the third quarter. Howard rode the legs of Kentarius Hampton on the ensuing series and took the 14-13 lead with 7:43 left in the game.
On the next series, Ramsey carried five times in moving Brainerd to the Howard 16-yard line. His sixth carry in the possession proved pivotal.
Brainerd did get another chance, moving the ball to the Tigers' 15-yard line with 30 second remaining, but Howard's Chevelle Gladden and Cudjoe Young stopped the Panthers on fourth-and-7 with 30 seconds left.
Howard's defensive star was 6-foot-8 basketball all-stater Brandon Walters, recording three sacks and taking part in multiple tackles. Rashad Brummitt and Walton intercepted passes for the Tigers.
Brainerd's attack was primarily on the ground. Tray Davenport joined Ramsey and quarterback Caffey leading that side of the ball.
LaWayne Ruffin scored Howard's first touchdown from 2 yards out with 1:13 left in the first half.