EL DORADO, Ark. (Harding Univ.) - Harding sophomore kicker John Gay
booted the game-winning, 44-yard field goal with no time left to give the
Bisons a 23-20 victory over Southern Arkansas on Saturday in the Boomtown
Classic at Memorial Stadium.
The victory moved Harding to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in Great American
Conference play. Previously unbeaten Southern Arkansas fell to 4-1 overall and
3-1 in conference action.
Harding rushed for only 127 yards and did not score a rushing touchdown for
the first time in 20 games, but the Bisons used solid defense and game-changing
special teams play and found a way to win anyway.
The Muleriders scored the game-tying touchdown with 1:17 left in the fourth
quarter on an 1-yard touchdown run by Mark Johnson.
After the touchdown, Southern Arkansas used a short kickoff that Harding
Aldridge returned to the ball to the Harding 41 with 1:10 left.
Harding picked up one first down but faced 4th-and-3 at the SAU 41. With 32
seconds left, Harding called timeout before running a pass play down the
visitor sideline to junior Alex Rachal.
The pass was incomplete, but Southern Arkansas' Quan Warren was called for pass
interference, giving Harding a first down at the SAU 26.
Harding ran the ball up the middle to put Gay in the center of the field for
the field goal attempt. Gay's kick was a low, line drive that split the
uprights. It was the longest field goal of his career and his fifth consecutive
Harding had by far its most difficult half of the season in the first half.
The Bisons lost three fumbles and had only 67 total yards.
Southern Arkansas' offense gained 230 yards in the first half but scored
only twice. Senior quarterback Tyler Sykora scored on a 1-yard dive with 4:26
left in the first half. The run came after a 28-yard pass from Sykora to wide
receiver Jack Brown.
The Muleriders' kicker Jacob Carpenter, who was 2-for-2 entering the game,
had a chance to increase the Southern Arkansas lead but missed two field goals
in the first half.
With 5:39 left in the first half, Southern Arkansas wide receiver Rafael
Thomas caught the first passing touchdown of the season against the Bisons this
season. Harding's Ty Powell
blocked the extra point attempt and senior cornerback Roderick Cohn
scooped up the loose ball and ran it back for two points. It was the first time
in program history Harding scored on a blocked extra point.
Harding trailed 13-2 at halftime.
For the second straight week, Harding controlled the third quarter.
Gay kicked a 31-yard field goal with 10:40 left in the third to cut the Mulerider
lead to 13-5. Later in the period, Harding took possession at HU 26 with 5:17
left. The Bisons did not pick up a first down on 4th-and-1 at the Harding 35
and set up to punt. Southern Arkansas was called for a personal foul penalty on
the punt, and Mulerider head coach Bill Koepple picked up 15 yards for an
unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
The penalties gave Harding the ball at the SAU 34. Three plays later,
Harding again faced fourth down, but this time Harding senior quarterback Kelvin Martin
threw a back-shoulder fade to sophomore Donatella Luckett
for a 30-yard touchdown. Junior Colton Kamper
added the two-point conversion on a sweep to tie the game at 13-13 with 50
seconds left in the third quarter.
Harding took its first lead of the game with 10:45 left when Powell struck
again for the Bisons. The senior defensive end came from the outside to block a
punt by Southern Arkansas' Kyle Tobler at the SAU 49-yard line. Senior Tramaine Wilkes
recovered the football and raced 48 yards down the sidelines for a touchdown.
Powell became the first Harding player ever to block two kicks in a game,
and it was the first time Harding returned a blocked punt for a touchdown since
Julius Jenkins returned one 18 yards against Henderson State in 2001.
Harding's touchdown was also the first allowed by Southern Arkansas in the
fourth quarter of a game this season and put the Bisons ahead 20-13, setting up
the nail-biting end.
Southern Arkansas had 324 yards of total offense but gained only 94 in the
second half. Harding had 108 yards in the second half. It was the first time in
the last 10 games that the Bisons did not rush for more than 250 yards.
Westbrook led Harding with 32 rushing yards on 12 carries.
The Muleriders had only 88 rushing yards, but Sykora completed 24-of-41
passes for 236 yards.
The two teams combined for 244 penalty yards on 27 penalties. Southern
Arkansas had 16 penalties for 134 yards.
Harding will look to start 6-0 for only the second time in program history
next week in Searcy. The Bisons will take on undefeated and nationally-ranked
Henderson State at First Security Stadium. Kickoff is at 6 p.m.