Camillus When West Genesee football senior Naesean Howard took the kickoff early in the second quarter of Friday night's season opener against Auburn, things were not going as planned for the hosts.
Carrying high expectations into 2013, the Wildcats found itself in a 7-7 tie with the Maroons, and were starting to wonder if it was vulnerable to a demoralizing defeat.
All of that concern started to fade away, though, when Howard, from his own 15-yard line, picked up blocks and broke tackles running around the left end until he was free and clear to the end zone, the 85-yard touchdown putting WG ahead for good.
And from there, the Syracuse University-bound Howard kept on running. Though he didn't take any more kickoffs to the house, he did add two rushing TD's, and the Wildcats defeated Auburn 28-13.
One of the big concerns going into the game was whether WG could find a passing attack good enough to keep defenders from stacking as many as eight on the line of scrimmage in an attempt to contain Howard.
A partial answer arrived in the first quarter, when new starting quarterback Bailey Gauthier, from the Maroons' 22, threw to the end zone and found Pat Hanley for the Wildcats' first points of the season.
Yet when Auburn tied it up early in the next period on Justin Valentino's 36-yard scoring pass to Jack Burgmaster, it was Howard blowing up all of the Maroons' upset plans with his big kick return.
Knowing that he needed to do more, though, Howard pounded away during another Wildcat drive late in the half, leading to a four-yard scoring run and WG takiing a 20-7 edge to the break.
By the time Howard added his third TD of the night on a nine-yard run and scored again on the subsequent two-point conversion, he was on his way to a solid total of 183 yards on 23 carries. Auburn got a bit closer with Julius Mizro's one-yard TD plunge in the fourth quarter, but WG didn't allow anything more.
Following a short week of work, WG now must confront a tough trip Thursday to face Fayetteville-Manlius in the home debut for new Hornets head coach Damien Rhodes.
F-M had a strong debut of its own, smashing Schenectady 55-20 in the Carrier Dome, but now steps up in competition in front of the live television cameras, as Time Warner Cable will broadcast this game, starting at 7 p.m.