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Banning Returns Favor to Taft

Football: Howard takes opening kickoff for touchdown and Pilots avenge defeat of last season with 41-13 victory.


WILMINGTON — Chris Howard had a score to settle, and he didn't waste any time settling it.

The junior at Banning High returned the opening kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown that propelled his team to a surprising 41-13 victory over Taft at Banning on Friday night.

The big play served as sweet redemption for Howard, who fumbled the opening kickoff in an 18-0 loss to Taft last season.

"I saw the hole open," Howard said. "I knew I had to make up for last year."

Taft (0-1) appeared stunned by the score, and by Mike Cockrell's 45-yard punt return for a touchdown a few minutes later, but special teams were only part of the problem.

Having reached the City Section 4-A Division championship game two consecutive years, Taft enters this season inexperienced along the offensive line. Its offense, led by junior transfer Brandon Hance at quarterback, never got on track.

How bad was it?

Taft managed just 31 yards in the first half and did not make a first down until 8:01 remained in the second quarter. By that time, Banning (1-1) was leading, 19-0.

By halftime, Hance had completed only two of seven passes for 18 yards and running back Marquis Brignac had been held to one yard on four carries.

"We thought we could come back," said Hance, who finished seven of 19 for 77 yards. "But we never got that big play to start us off."

While the offense struggled, the defense could not find a way to stop Howard and Cockrell, who mixed lightning-quick scores with long, grinding drives.

Running behind a massive front line, Howard finished with 16 carries for 119 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown run.

Cockrell rushed 11 times for 28 yards, scoring on runs of one and three yards to put the game out of reach early in the second half.

Taft trailed, 35-0, in the fourth quarter but avoided a shutout when Brignac scored on a 64-yard run and a 36-yard fumble return.

Brignac finished with 14 carries for 129 yards, but most of that came against Banning substitutes.

"We knew they were extremely good," Taft Coach Troy Starr said. "And we knew we were extremely green up front. We've got a lot of work ahead of us."

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