Cooper football coach Willie Howard doesn't allow his defense to do any hitting during the week. The way the Hawks' defense handled matters Thursday, it didn't matter. The unit outhit and outran Armstrong's offense, setting the tone for a 26-6 victory in the first regular-season meeting between the two teams since 2004.
"We have gone to zero contact," Howard said. "No contact practices at all. Our kids have bought into the system. As long as 11 people are flying to the ball, they get no yards. [Armstrong] got a few yards tonight, but not enough."
Both teams entered the game with 2-0 records. On paper, it looked like an even tussle between Armstrong's strength and Cooper's speed. Speed showed up. Strength? Not so much.
After 10 consecutive sub-.500 seasons, the Falcons are still learning how to win. Cooper, a program that has enjoyed some of its most successful seasons since Howard took over in 2009, played the role of strict taskmaster. Armstrong flubbed its first possession and gave the ball to the Cooper offense at its own 25.
Hawks running back LeVonte Taylor — a now-you-see-him, now-you-don't runner in a 5-6 frame — scored eight plays later on a 1-yard wiggle through the line for a 7-0 lead.
"We had a game plan, and we came out and executed it," said Taylor, who added a 10-yard score in the second quarter as the Hawks took a 14-0 lead into halftime. "I give all the credit to the offensive line. They had my back."
Cooper essentially put the game away on its first possession of the second half. Quarterback Phillip Howard, whose athleticism led the University of Minnesota to offer him a scholarship, returned the opening kickoff 50 yards. Four plays later, on fourth-and-10, he avoided two Armstrong defenders and scampered around right end for a 33-yard touchdown, knocking the last bit of wind from underneath the Falcons' wings.
Meanwhile, the Cooper defense was spending its time beating Armstrong to every spot and making resounding, textbook-perfect tackles.
"Our defense is hungry," said Howard, who also starts in the defensive backfield. "We've got a bunch of dogs on the defensive side of the ball."
Cooper's Alonzo Hollie closed out the Hawks' scoring with a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter. Armstrong avoided the shutout when Cartier Reid scored with 5:52 left.
"They kicked our butts," Armstrong coach Jack Negen said. "We'll take our lumps and regroup. This is just one loss. The season's not over."
Despite the Hawks' impressive effort, Coach Howard said there is still a lot of improvement to be made.
"Effort? A-plus," Howard said. "They gave me everything I asked them to give. Technically? Probably a B-minus. We still have some alignments and assignments to get down.
"When we do that, people will look at us and say, 'Man, those boys can play.' ''