During the timeout before his biggest kick of the season to date, N.C. Wesleyan place-kicker B.G. Howell allowed his mind to drift back 48 hours.
Howell thought about Thursday’s practice and how his teammates gathered around and made as much ruckus as possible to distract him as he attempted a practice-ending field goal.
It’s something the Bishops do often to strengthen their kicking game, and it came in handy Saturday.
Howell eliminated his surroundings, focused on his routine and drove home a wobbly, yet effective 40-yard field goal in overtime that gave N.C. Wesleyan a season-opening 16-13 victory against Ohio Northern at Northern Nash High.
“I didn’t want to celebrate too early, I just wanted to embrace it, ” said Howell, who earlier in the game missed a 37-yard attempt and had an extra-point blocked. “It was a whole team victory. They put me in the right spot to make that.”
Indeed they did.
N.C. Wesleyan (1-0) won its first season-opener in the nine-year history of the program, and it did so against an Ohio Northern team that plays in one of the tougher conferences in Division III (the Ohio Athletic Conference includes multi-national champion Mount Union and top 25 squad Baldwin-Wallace).
The Battling Bishops’
defense was opportunistic all afternoon. The secondary picked off four passes, including one on Ohio Northern’s first possession of overtime when Austin Arbuckle stepped in front of a Tyler Rue attempt at the goal line.
Four plays later, Howell kicked the Battling Bishops to victory.
Howell’s kick was clutch, but N.C. Wesleyan’s defensive line gave him the opportunity. They stopped the Polar Bears on a fourth-and-1 from the Bishops’ 20-yard line with less than two minutes remaining in regulation.
“That fourth-down stop was probably the biggest play of the game,” said Bishops senior defensive back Sam Smith, who recorded two interceptions. “We gave up a lot of points last year, and we’re not trying to do that this year.”
Freshman quarterback Laron Ellerbe paced N.C. Wesleyan with 121 yards, while sophomore Jacques Alston added 59 yards rushing and 49 receiving yards. Alston scored twice, including a 4-yard catch on the final play of the first half to give N.C. Wesleyan a 13-6 lead.
The offense sputtered for most of the second half, but despite being outgained 398-292, N.C. Wesleyan found a way to win.
It was just one win, but for a team that uncharacteristically finished 2-8 in 2011, it was a relief.
The entire squad chased Howell around the field after the game-winning kick, and coach Mark Henninger was doused with an ice bucket.
“We gave up some big plays, but we came up with some turnovers – some really big turnovers,” Henninger said. “It’s only a big win if you come back and play better. We have to make a lot of improvements between now and next week, but 1-0 is something we haven’t done here before.”
N.C. Wesleyan 16
Ohio Northern 13 (OT)
ON 0 6 7 0 0– 13
NCWC 7 6 0 0 3– 16
NCWC – Jacques Alston 4 run (B.G. Howell kick), 5:50
ON – Justin Williams 28 pass from Tyler Rue (kick failed), 0:56
NCWC – Alston 4 pass from Laron Ellerbe (kick blocked), 0:00
ON – Tyler Rue 1 run (Matt Chaney kick), 1:04
NCWC – Howell 40 FG, 0:00
24 First downs...............15
215 Passing yards...........113
398 Total offense............292
Rushing – NCWC: Laron Ellerbe 25-121; Jaques Alston 9-59; John Jackson 8-35; Lauremce Woolford 1-4. Passing – NCWC: Laron Ellerbe 7-16, 88; John Jackson 2-27; 25. Receiving – NCWC: Jacques Alston 4-49; Greg Edwards 2-33; Te’Sean Glass 2-25; Timaine Moore 1-6.
Jessie H. Nunery can be reached at 407-9959 or firstname.lastname@example.org