WILMINGTON — Archmere staged a big comeback against Howard on Sept. 24 at Abessinio Stadium, but the Wildcats managed to run out of the clock on the Auks, claiming 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 setback in nearly three years.
The Auks recoverd from a quick 12-0 start by Howard to take a 14-12 lead, but the Wildcats would score the next 20 points. Quarterback R.J. Matthews capped a 10-play, 72-yard drive with a 2-yard run around 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 the fast way when he intercepted a Chris Albero pass and returned it 32 yards to the end zone. A two-point conversion — Howard’s only successful extra-point attempt on six touchdowns — made it 26-14.
Another turnover hurt the Auks when they fumbled the kickoff return. Sebastian Smith pounced on the loose ball at the 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 Wildcats’ second touchdown in 40 seconds.
It didn’t take long for Archmere to answer. They needed less than three minutes to cut the deficit to 32-20. Starting at their own 22, the Auks got a 21-yard reception from Albero on third and 8, and two penalties on the Wildcats moved the ball all the way to the Howard 22. Albero finished the drive with an 18-yard strike to Ryan Hagenberg, and the two-point conversion brought them to within 32-20.
Howard tried to get that back immediately, but a kickoff return for a touchdown was negated by a penalty. Still, the Wildcats were in business at the Auks’ 45, and they went back to work. Al’Zion Triplett had the big play on the drive, gaining 10 yards on a third down and 8 at the Archmere 19. On the next play, the first of the fourth quarter, Triplett went up the middle for the score, increasing the lead to 38-30.
The Auks had to work to get those points back. Starting at their own 15, they mixed runs and passes to move steadily downfield. Albero helped the cause with a 19-yard run on third and 10, and two consecutive completions to Ryan Hagenberg got the Auks down to the Howard 28.
A few plays later, on second and 15 from the Wildcats’ 33, Albero threw to Gavin Lee for 20 yards and a first down. After two incompletions, Albero took matters into his own hands, going around right end for a touchdown with 6:56 to go.
The Auks got the ball back immediately after a successful onside kick, but they lost the ball on downs. After holding the Wildcats, the Auks went back on offense late in the fourth quarter. They faced a fourth down and 12 at their own 31 when Albero scrambled and hit Ryan Hagenberg again. Hagenberg was streaking down the middle just short of midfield. As he neared the Howard 30, he cut to his right, the back to his left 10 yards later. Hagenberg dove into the end zone just ahead of a Wildcats defender, and a two-point conversion brought the Auks back to within four at 38-34.
Another onside kick was unsuccessful, and Howard was able to run out the clock to seal the victory.
Howard took a 12-0 lead early in the game, taking advantage of Auks turnovers. Archmere fumbled on its first play from scrimmage, setting the Wildcats up at the Auks’ 10. Matthews finished the short drive with a 2-yard plunge just 100 seconds into the game.
The Wildcats began another drive with 4:37 left in the first after recovering another Archmere fumble. The drive covered 58 yards and included a 22-yard completion from Matthews to Robert Kelly on a third and 18. Matthews wrapped up this possession as well with a 15-yard scoring run.
Justin Hagenberg capped a 65-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to get 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 as Archmere went ahead, 14-12.
Howard continued its fine start, improving to 4-0. The Wildcats are back at 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 back after suffering a knee injury last year, had nine tackles and 1.5 sacks. The Auks (2-1) are home against Wilmington Friends next Saturday at 2 p.m.
All photos by Jason Winchell except where noted.