With 59 seconds to play last November, second-ranked Carroll trailed fourth-ranked De Matha, 14-12, and was 62 yards from the end zone and its third straight Metro Conference crown.
Everyone knew Carroll's best chance for victory was to get the ball to Joe Howard and the lithe, slippery runner would take care of the rest.
Carroll did just that, throwing two passes to Howard, the second for a nine-yard touchdown play, culminating a wondrous play for the junior. On that sunny afternoon, the 5-foot-9, 161-pound Howard had five catches for 79 yards, three rushes for 53 yards, one interception, caused one fumble and recovered another, punted four times for an average of 37 yards and made a handful of tackles. And he was playing with his shoulder, separated two weeks earlier, strapped.
"I would have to say that was one of the greatest games I've seen one player have," said Lion Coach Maus Collins. "He is just an excellent athlete. He might not be big by the major college standards but, oh, he can play. Schools come here looking for trees and Joe isn't a tree. But if he can't play for 90 percent of the major schools in this country, well. . ."
Howard put on another of his "now-you-see-me-now-you-don't" performances last week to lead the Lions to a 20-12 triumph over St. John's. The victory raised Carroll's record to 7-0 and kept it atop the high school rankings.
"I would have to say that was my best game of the year," said Howard, referring to his two touchdown catches and two interceptions that bordered on the miraculous. "I don't know how many catches I had or tackles I made. Stats don't mean much to me. Besides, I have a short memory. I'm just out there to do what I can do for the team."
The one play the Lion players and Collins are still raving about was the quick-out short pass that Howard turned into a 50-yard scoring play. On the play, Howard faked six players (one twice) in a space no bigger than a free throw lane before turning upfield and sprinting into the end zone.
"I had run a down-and-out all day and the corner was looking for it again," said Howard, who later made a 27-yard TD grab over the shoulder while falling. "This time I showed him something new."
Blessed with 4.5 speed and superb hands, Howard, who usually lines up as the wingback, has grabbed only 12 passes but they have been for a whopping 404 yards, a 33.6 average. He has run the ball for another 105 yards on 20 carries. From his free safety spot, Howard has also picked off five passes and been in on 45 tackles. He also handles the punting duties.
"I shouldn't be making too many tackles. That means someone isn't doing their job up front," said Howard. "Our team is doing the job. The only hits I get are when I come up to help. I don't enjoy hitting those 200-pound fullbacks, anyway. I feel I'm a good tackler. I'm the last man on the field and if a runner gets by everyone, I have to make that tackle."
Thus far, Howard's center field duties have consisted mainly of directing traffic and seeing to it the long pass is not completed. The Lions have allowed only 43 points and posted two shutouts.
Unlike last year, Howard is well-rested in the fourth period and is looking to make the big play.
"If we wanted to build up his stats, we could run him more," said Collins. "But we don't want to get him beat up running off tackle all day. He's perfect where he is. He gets the ball in the key situations."
Also a letterman in basketball and track, Howard downplays his heroics while lauding the play of his brother, Andre, a receiver at Gwynn Park. While the Yellow Jackets aren't enjoying the success of the Lions, Andre Howard is having a good year.
"We don't have any rivalries going," insists Howard. "We're tight and I want him to do as well as I do."
The conference title again will be decided when Carroll and De Matha clash Nov. 15. But don't mention that to Howard.
"We play Spingarn Saturday and that's all I can think about at the moment," said Howard. "One week at a time. Remember, I've got a short memory."