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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Football

Ward adds excitement in first QB start


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Sophomore Greg Ward Jr. accounted for two touchdowns and more than 250 total yards in his first collegiate start as a quarterback. He provided a much-needed spark for the Cougars’ offense, which didn’t score a touchdown in their last game. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

Greg Ward has become must-see TV.

Whether using his accurate right arm or nimble legs, the sophomore quarterback had UH fans out of their seats, providing a spark to the Cougars’ once-slumping offense.

But there was one factor that made Ward’s 95 rushing, 168 pass yards and two touchdowns more impressive — it was his first collegiate start at quarterback. Ward helped lead UH to a 28-24 win in a hostile environment at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

“He has a great ability to extend plays. We gave him some designed runs. We talked about offensively all week and I said it publicly, some of our best runs were where Greg was involved designed passes,” said head coach Tony Levine after the game. “There’s either coverage or pressure on the play, and Greg takes off.”

Ward replaced sophomore signal caller John O’Korn, who struggled through the first five games of the season to earn his first start. He certainly had help from the defense; the Cougars forced five turnovers, including the game-clinching interception by senior Efrem Oliphant.

Ward made mistakes, but he was the playmaker the Cougars needed.

On his first pass, he tossed an interception that set Memphis up with good field position, but the Tigers couldn’t capitalize and missed a field goal four plays later. And when the Third Ward Defense recovered a fumble, Ward put the ball on ground during the following possession. In key moments, though, he was money.

With the Cougars down two touchdowns and facing a raucous crowd, Ward scampered 64 yards, leaving the Tigers’ defense behind him.

The play came at a crucial moment for UH. Memphis had gained momentum after scoring a touchdown on an 8-play drive that took nearly four minutes off the clock. The scramble ignited an offense that hadn’t scored a touchdown in five quarters, and UH outscored Memphis 21-10 down the stretch to earn the victory.

During the first possession of the fourth quarter, Ward used his passing ability to put UH ahead for good. He completed three passes for 60 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown to Markeith Ambles that gave the Cougars a 28-21 lead.

Memphis linebacker Tank Jakes noticed the spark Ward provided.

“Their energy definitely fed off him. You could see guys come open. He would throw the ball or make a play,” Jakes said.

For a team that has struggled against good teams, the Cougars are 3-10 against teams that finished with a winning record during the Levine era, a road win over a solid team is a good accomplishment.

It’s not clear if Ward is the long-term option at quarterback, but he certainly made a strong case to hold onto the position.

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