Howard, Caylin Newton stun UNLV in one of the biggest upsets in college football history
Dan SteinbergWashington Post
"I mean, coming to Howard, it's not a football school right now," Caylin Newton said last month. "It will be."
The undersized freshman quarterback - whose brother happens to be a former NFL MVP, guy named Cam - wasn't trying to make headlines. He was speaking matter-of-factly, in a cramped office, before an early-season practice. He hadn't even been named the school's starter yet, although he was confident that moment would arrive. But Newton seemed absurdly certain that his new school - which he selected after not getting offers from any Power-5 programs - was ready to take off, and soon.
Newton later became the starter, and his first game went far beyo nd any rational preseason rhetoric. The Bison, 40-some point underdogs at UNLV, pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport late Saturday night, a 43-40 road win in Coach Mike London's first game that will completely upend all expectations at the D.C. school.
Longtime Vegas analyst RJ Bell said Howard's win was the biggest upset in college football history, noting that a $100 bet on the Bison to win outright would have paid out an astounding $55,000. The Associated Press confirmed that it was indeed the largest upset in college football history based on point spreads, topping Stanford's win over USC as a 40-point underdog in 2007. And Howard was actually paid $600,000 for the honor of beating UNLV, according to USA Today, which reported that "Howard had to arrange for its band and cheerleaders to arrive in Las Vegas by noon the day before the game to participate in various events" to receive the full guarantee.
T he result was especially shocking in light of Howard's recent forays against Bowl Subdivision teams. In 2016, the Bison lost to Maryland by 39, and to Rutgers by 38. The year before, the Bison played Boston College and Appalachian State, losing by a combined 125-0. The year before that included a 41-0 drubbing at Akron. Howard went 3-19 over the last two seasons, which is why they were more than six-touchdown underdogs in their first-ever game against UNLV, and why the Las Vegas Review-Journal noted in its preview that "there also has been little news out of Howard because the school website hasn't provided much information, and the program is barely covered by the Washington media."
But the Bison sure looked comfortable Saturday night. They forced three turnovers, including a 75-yard fumble return for a touchdown that gave them a double-digit first half lead. They didn't go away, even after UNLV scored 24 straight points to take a 33-21 second-half le ad. And they rode Newton during a back-and-forth second half. The 5-foot-11 quarterback carried the ball 21 times for 190 yards and two touchdowns, threw for 140 yards and a touchdown, and converted a two-point conversion early in the fourth quarter to give Howard a 36-33 lead. UNLV went back ahead with a Lexington Thomas touchdown, but Newton scored midway through the final period, the game's last points.
Howard was stopped on 4th-and-1 at the UNLV two-yard line in the final three minutes, but the Rebels fumbled after a long completion on the next play, and Howard recovered. UNLV eventually got the ball back, but ran out of time as Bison players ran onto the field in celebration.
In other words, the Bison were supposed to be a sacrificial offering. The Las Vegas Sun called it "the worst defeat in program history" for UNLV, but it was something like the reverse of that for Howard. London, the longtime Virginia head coach who was most recently the associate head coach and defensive line coach at Maryland, took over at Howard in January, inheriting a program that had recorded one winning season since 2005.
"I know there are a lot of people who are looking at this hire and this opportunity and asking, 'What are you doing? Why's he doing it?'" London said then. "To me, 'Why not?' "
Newton had already committed to the school by that point, and his father Cecil insisted that the coaching change would not affect their plans. Caylin said he had never heard of London before he became the head coach, but both Newtons were thrilled by the hire.
"I mean, Mike London has a long-standing reputation," Cecil Newton said. "So that in and of itself was a credit to the decision we had made, premature to knowing that he was going to be the coach."
"It was a leap of faith. It was a trust walk," Caylin Newton said last month. "Me and my dad had a plan, and he said we're going to go anyways. ... You know, everything happens for a reason. Who would have ever thought we would have a coach like this?"
London had led Richmond to an FCS title in 2008 - the same level that Howard competes at - and upset Duke early in the 2009 season. His tenure at Virginia was rocky, but back at the FCS level this season, London started with an even more shocking upset.
And in the minutes after they pulled off the stunner in the middle of the night, just about every national sports outlet was suddenly paying attention to Howard.
It called to mind Newton's comments back in that office, when he was trying to make a couple of visitors understand his college choice.
"I had to say, you know what, this is my Auburn, this is my Alabama," Newton said then. "It will get there."
Saturday night wasn't a bad start.Copyrig ht Â© 2017, Chicago Tribune
- College Football
- UNLV Rebels
- Howard Bison
- Mike London