Howard University pulls off the upset for the ages

Howard University wide receiver Jason Collins (10) barrels into a UNLV defensive player on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. Howard defeated the Runnin' Rebels 43-40. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

LAS VEGAS, NV-The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels just got their rear ends handed to them by the Howard University Bison football team. Howard who? Well, just in case you missed the memo, Howard University is the renowned historically black college in Washington, D.C., known more for its scholars and academia and societal movers and shakers.

The institution is recognized as the education home to P. Diddy, Taraji P. Henson, Sen. Kamala Harris, actors Lance Gross, Anthony Anderson, Laz Alonzo and dancer Debbie Allen. Even though the school’s football program have produced players who made it all the way up to the NFL, building a sports powerhouse has not been a priority at this academic powerhouse. Until maybe now.

If there was a time to make a big splash, the Bison successfully unveiled the Mike London era with the team’s shocking road win against the Rebels.  For Howard, the victory means something to build on for the rest of the season. The season-opening win already gives Howard half of the win totals it accumulated last year when the Bison went 2-9 on the season.

Howard University running back Anthony Philyaw (7) rushed for 71 yards and two touchdowns against the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels on Saturday, Sept.2, 2017. Howard defeated UNLV 43-40. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Not only that, Howard took down an NCAA Division I-A team in the process. This one is going to sting a while for the Runnin’ Rebels. UNLV is still probably smarting after the Bison managed to hand the Runnin’ Rebels a 43-40 defeat on their home turf. This wasn’t just an upset. Howard’s win over the Runnin’ Rebels is one for the ages.

That’s because when London and his Bison team took the field at Sam Boyd Stadium, they were 45-point underdogs. Basically, this was supposed to be a pushover game for UNLV. The  Runnin’ Rebels paid  Howard, a Division 1-AA school, $600,000 to essentially come and take their expected beating in front of their home crowd. Whatever the Runnin’ Rebels were thinking, they thought wrong.

That showed from the opening series when Howard quarterback Caylin Newton, the younger brother of Carolina Panthers star Cam Newton, blitzed UNLV with a 52-yard touchdown run. If ever there was a time when Sam Boyd Stadium got the silent treatment, that was it. After Newton zipped his way into the endzone, the only thing that could be heard on the field were crickets.

Howard University running back Dezmond Wortham (20) looks for running back against the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

UNLV, you just got served. Newton wasn’t done in his Howard debut. Executing the coolness of his bigger brother, Newton rushed for 194 yards (9 yards per carry) and completed 15 of 26 passes for another 140 and two scores through the air. A three touchdown performance-on the road and in an hostile environment, will go a long ways for the heralded freshman .

But what could be an indicator of what is to come for Howard is how Newton and his teammates kept their composure when they faced duress. After taking a 21-19 lead into halftime, thanks to a short touchdown toss from Newton to Kyle Anthony and a 75-yard touchdown return off a fumble by Devin Rollins, Howard found itself behind the eight ball when the fourth quarter rolled around.

In just two quarters of play (second and third quarters), UNLV scored 27 points to take a 33-28 lead into the fourth period.  This is the part of the game where Howard was supposed to roll over and take their lumps on their way back to nation’s capital. Unfortunately for the Runnin’ Rebels that didn’t happen. Newton and his teammates would be the ones dishing out the lump and thump passes.

Caylin Newton (3) passed for two scores and rushed for a touchdown in Howard University’s 43-40 win against UNLV on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Southern California native Anthony Philyaw scampered his way into the endzone for a 11-yard touchdown to help Howard re-take the lead. UNLV answered with a score of their own to climb back on top. Newton wasn’t fazed. Looking to stave off the second-half surge by UNLV, Newton connected with Philyaw for a 42-yard pass-and-catch that led to his four-yard touchdown run.

And the crowd just went quiet. A pin could be heard on  the Runnin’ Rebels sidelines. That wasn’t the case for the Howard faithful as both players and supporters, perhaps knowing the significance of this budding win, erupted. Though both teams piled up the offensive yardage totals (Howard, 449 total yards; UNLV, 564 yards), the key to the game was the turnover factor.

Howard was guilty of one interception. UNLV dropped the ball on  the turf three times, which resulted in 15 points for Howard. Game over. With the win, Howard made history by recording the biggest win against the spread in college football annals.

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1271 Articles
Dennis is a news and sports photojournalist. Dennis has covered and written on issues such as civil rights, education, politics, and social justice. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Daily Breeze, Daily Press, Los Angeles Wave, Los Angeles Sentinel, and other media outlets. Dennis is currently the editor and publisher of News4usonline. He covers the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, and NCAA. Dennis is an alum and graduate of Howard University.