Harding Spoils Henderson Homecoming, Streak


The shortest touchdown of Harding wide receiver Donatella Luckett‘s career may have been his most important.

Luckett, whose 19 previous touchdowns average more than 50 yards, scored on a 3-yard reverse with 17 seconds left, and the Harding defense held the vaunted Henderson State offense scoreless in the second half in a 28-24 upset victory Saturday at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium.

Harding, ranked No. 23 entering the game, improved to 6-1 overall and in the Great American Conference. It was the first road victory in eight games against a team ranked in the top five in the American Football Coaches Association Poll and only the fifth time in 26 games Harding has won on the road against Henderson State.

Henderson State fell to 7-1 overall and 6-1 in conference. The Bisons snapped the Reddies’ 30-game winning streak in conference games.

The victory was Harding’s eighth straight on the road, breaking the school record set by the Bisons’ 1971-73 teams. It was Harding’s 24th victory in the last three seasons, also breaking the record of the 1971-73 teams, who won 23 games over those three seasons.

Harding had a chance to take the lead earlier in the fourth quarter but came up 1 yard short on fourth-and-6. Henderson State took over at its own 25-yard line leading 24-21. After a Reddie penalty, senior quarterback Kevin Rodgers completed a 20-yard pass to Corey Chappell, who almost broke free for a touchdown. But Harding defensive back Dennis Buckner came from behind, knocked the ball out, and cornerback Trendall Stevenson recovered the fumble at the Henderson State 46 with 4:36 remaining. 

Using nine straight rushing plays, Harding marched the ball to the Henderson State 3, where it was third-and-goal. After a timeout, Harding quarterback Keenan Kellett took the snap and pitched to Luckett who made two Henderson State defensive players miss and scored just inside the pylon.

Henderson State advanced to the Harding 39, but with five seconds left, Rodgers’ long pass was intercepted by Vanard Placide to seal the victory and give Harding’s NCAA playoff hopes new life.

Harding put up the only points in the third quarter. The Bisons used 12 rushing plays on a 13-play, 83-yard drive that took almost seven minutes. Redshirt freshman Zach Shelley scored his sixth touchdown of the season on an 11-yard sweep. Kellett connected with Alapeti Magalei on the two-point conversion that cut the Henderson State lead to 24-21.

Rodgers completed 16-of-24 passes for 241 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, and the Reddies led the Bisons 24-13 at halftime. Senior wide receiver Darius Davis had two receptions for 86 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown on the Reddies’ second play of the game. Rogers finished with 290 passing yards, and Davis had 103 receiving yards.

Harding’s three first-half scores came on two John Gay field goals and a school-record 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by senior Ahmad Scott. The return broke the 45-year-old school record of 96 yards set by Bill Watts against Arkansas Tech in 1969.

Harding had the ball for 43 minutes and 58 seconds in the game, including 23:51 in the second half. When Henderson State did have the ball in the second half, Harding’s defense did not allow them to do much with it. The Bisons held the Reddies to five first downs, 42 rushing yards, and only 49 passing yards after halftime.

Harding rushed 78 times for 333 yards. Romo Westbrook carried 23 times for 93 yards, Scott rushed nine times for 49 yards, and Shelley had eight carries for 48 yards and a touchdown.

Aric Stock and Daylan Skidmore led Harding with eight tackles each.

The Bisons return to Searcy next Saturday for Homecoming 2014. Harding will host Southeastern Oklahoma at 2 p.m.

Henderson, ranked No. 4 in the AFCA top 25 entering the game, failed to score in the second half for the first time since November 5, 2011 in a 16-10 win over McKendree. The streak covered a span of 31 games.

The Bisons, 6-1 in the Great American Conference, totaled 379 yards of offense including 333 yards rushing.

Henderson State, 7-1 overall and 6-1 in the GAC, jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead in the opening quarter as Kevin Rodgers connected with Darius Davis on the second play from scrimmage for a 75-yard touchdown.

On Harding’s first possession, the Bison ran 17 plays and  chewed up 8:54 off the clock. However, the Reddie defense limited the Bison to a 22-yard field goal by John Gay to make the score 7-3.

With the Reddies driving on their next possession, Rodgers hit Joseph Snapp for 25 yards but Darious Lane stripped the ball from Snapp and returned it to the Henderson 22.

Again the Bisons would have to settle for a 33-yard field goal by Gay to cut the deficit to 7-6 with 2:24 left in the opening quarter.

Henderson pushed its lead to 14-6 as Rodgers connected with Dustin Holland for a 7-yard strike early in the second quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, Ahmad Scott set a Harding record returning Houston Ray’s kick 97-yards down the right sideline to make the score 14-13.

Harding then attempted an on-side kick but Chris King recovered the football on the Bison 41 to set up Henderson’s next score.

The Reddies moved the ball down to the Bison 11 before Rodgers threw his third touchdown pass of the game, this time to Corey Chappell to put Henderson on top 21-13 with 11:12 to play on the half.

Harding quarterback Keenan Kellett began to orchestrate another big drive for the Bisons. Facing 3rd-and-2 from the Reddie 14, Blake Lopez forced and recovered a Kellett fumble and returned the football to the Reddie 26.

Later in the half, the Reddies got great field position as Harding punter Tristan Parsely managed just an 11-yard punt giving Henderson the ball at the Harding 42.

The Reddies moved the ball down to the Bison 15, but was held to a 32-yard field goal by Ray to send Henderson into the locker room with a 24-13 advantage.

The lone score of the third quarter came on an 11-yard run by Harding’s Zach Shelley to cap off a 13-play, 83-yard drive that took 6:44 off the clock.

Harding converted the two-point conversion as Kellett connected with Alapetti Magalei to make the score 24-21.

On the ensuing kickoff, Chappell returned Parsley’s kickoff 52 yards to the Bison 46 to give the Reddies great field position.

Henderson turned to the ground game and drove the ball down to Bison 17 and faced 3rd-and-1. Jaquan Cole was stuffed on the third down play and the Reddies elected to go for the first-down on the next play. Again Cole was met by Trevon Biglow for no gain and the Reddies turned the ball over on downs.

After both teams were forced to punt on their next possession midway through the fourth-quarter, Harding took over on its own 45 and managed to move the ball down to the Reddie 30. Harding would attempt to convert on 4th-and-6, but Romo Westbrook was stopped short by Kenrick Burns and Cam Deveraux.

Following a false start penalty, Rodgers connected with Chappell for a 20-yard pick up. Attempting to gain extra yardage, Chappell lost the football and Trendall Stevenson fell on the loose pigskin for the Bisons at the Reddie 46.

The big play set up Harding’s winning score as the Bisons took 4:19 off the clock and went 10 plays, covering 45 yards with Donatella Luckett scoring on a 3-yard run with just 17 seconds remaining.

The Reddies would begin its final drive from their own 43 where Rodgers completed a short pass to Cole. A 15-yard facemask penalty on the Bisons would move the ball down to the Harding 39.

Henderson had one last opportunity. Rodgers, who was pressured from the backside, tried to connect with Davis deep down the right sideline but the pass was intercepted by Vanard Placide to end the game.

Rodgers ended the game with 290 yards passing, completing 23-of-36 attempts and three scores.

Davis went over the 100-yard mark for the fifth time this season having four catches for 103 yards, while Chappell ended with 73 yards on 11 receptions.

A total of 10 different players carried the ball for the Bisons with Westbrook leading the way with 93 yards on 23 attempts.

Defensively the Reddies were led by Glennon Bobo with 11 tackles including two tackles for lost yardage.

Wesley Brady and Trevon Del Rio had 10 tackles each, while Lopez had 9 tackles, 3 stops for lost yardage and a fumble recovery.

Henderson State will next play host to Arkansas-Monticello on Saturday, Nov. 1 with kickoff set for 3 p.m. at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium.

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