Photo Courtesy: Harding Athletics (Jeff Montgomery)
SEARCY (Harding) - After a shaky start, Harding unleashed its NCAA-leading rushing offense and defeated Arkansas-Monticello 63-30 on Saturday in Great American Conference action at First Security Stadium.
Harding (4-1, 4-1) won its fourth straight overall and will travel to Arkadelphia, Ark., to meet undefeated Ouachita Baptist next Saturday. Arkansas-Monticello (3-3, 3-3) remained winless in three road games this season.
The Bisons rushed for 337 yards and seven touchdowns in the first half, including a school-record tying four rushing touchdowns from junior quarterback Keenan Kellett.
Kellett scored on a 1-yard keeper on Harding's first possession, a five-play, 85-yard drive. Arkansas-Monticello then used Jamal Nixon's 67-yard kickoff return to start its first drive at the Harding 29. The Boll Weevils picked up one first down but were held to a 29-yard field goal by Jamie McGee with 10:05 left in the first quarter.
On Harding's next drive, Kellett's pitch on the option went awry and UAM's George Alvarez recovered the fumble and scored from 12 yards out to give UAM the lead 10-7 at the 9:10 mark of the first quarter.
It was all Harding after that. The Bisons tacked on two more touchdowns in the first quarter, both on short runs by Kellett, and led 21-10 at the end of the first quarter. The Bisons had 260 yards of total offense in the quarter.
Harding scored four rushing touchdowns in the second quarter, one each by Romo Westbrook, Kellett, Ahmad Scott, and Ty Finley. The Bisons limited the Boll Weevils to a 33-yard Jamie McGee field goal and led 49-13 at halftime.
Westbrook, the reigning GAC Offensive Player of the Week, rushed for 106 yards on six carries and did not play in the second half. It was his second straight 100-yard rushing effort and his third of the season.
Harding's second half touchdowns both came in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Vanard Placide made his first interception of the season and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown with 11:20 left in the game. It was tied for the ninth-longest interception return in program history. Backup quarterback Jacob Moore scored Harding's eighth rushing touchdown of the game with 2:05 left.
Harding entered the game averaging 404.0 rushing yards per game, the best of any team in the NCAA. The Bisons improved on that, running up 474 yards on 58 carries. Arkansas-Monticello had no answer when the Bisons got outside, as Harding had five different rushers with at least one carry of 20 yards or more.
Junior Alapeti Magalei carried six times for 75 yards, and junior D'Nico Jackson-Best had 71 yards on 13 carries.
Kellett completed all four of his pass attempts for 108 yards. The Bisons did not throw a pass in the second half.
Harding's defense limited Arkansas-Monticello to only 2.8 yards per rush. Tailback Rod Smith carried 33 times for 85 yards and two touchdowns.
The Boll Weevils used three different quarterbacks who combined to go 17-of-37 for 208 yards. Sylar Scott led the UAM receiving corps with five catches for 95 yards.
Harding redshirt freshman Daylan Skidmore led all defensive players with 15 tackles, tied for the fourth most by a Bison since the NCAA standardized defensive stats in 2000.