MAGNOLIA — Harding junior fullback Romo Westbrook rushed for 171 yards on 21 carries and an early touchdown to lead the Bisons to a 28-14 victory over Southern Arkansas in front of a national audience on Thursday at Wilkins Stadium.
The victory, which aired live on CBS Sports Network, was the eighth straight for Harding over Southern Arkansas overall and the sixth straight in Magnolia. The Bisons have won three straight and improved to 3-1 overall and in the Great American Conference. Harding returns to Searcy on Oct. 12 to meet Arkansas-Monticello.
With the score tied at 14-14 at halftime, Harding took advantage of a Jordan Cantrell interception, marched 37 yards on five plays, and took the lead for good on Ahmad Scott’s 15-yard touchdown run with 1:19 left in the third quarter. John Gay’s extra point was wide left, and the Bisons led 20-14.
A 10-play, 80-yard drive in the fourth quarter sealed the game for the Bisons. Quarterback Keenan Kellett punctuated the drive with a one-yard sneak for the touchdown. He then raced to the far pylon to add the two-point conversion.
Harding rushed for 224 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns in the first half, but a pair of interceptions by the Southern Arkansas defense proved costly. The Bisons outgained the Muleriders 275-123 in the half.
With 10:05 left in the first quarter, Harding junior fullback D’Nico Jackson-Best broke through the line on a 33-yard touchdown run on Harding’s first offensive possession.
Harding made it 14-0 with 9:52 left in the half as Westbrook broke a tackle and raced 51-yards for a touchdown.
Southern Arkansas had its longest scoring drive of the half to answer Harding’s second touchdown. Mulerider quarterback Tyler Sykora hit Chris Terry with a 34-yard touchdown pass to conclude a six-play, 55-yard drive.
The second of two Southern Arkansas interceptions led to the Muleriders’ second touchdown. Cardarious Patterson intercepted a Kellett pass and returned it 21 yards to the Harding 29. Seven plays later, Sykora hit Karon Dismuke on a 2-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 14-14.
Westbrook’s 171-yard effort was his third career 100-yard game. Scott was second on the team with 82 yards on five carries and a touchdown. The Bisons, who entered the game averaging a Division II-best 397.0 rushing yards per game, compiled 425 yards on 63 carries, an average of 6.7 yards per play.
Harding’s defense limited Southern Arkansas (3-2, 3-2) to only 44 rushing yards on 28 carries. Senior tailback Mark Johnson entered the game ranked third in the GAC in rushing with 103.8 rushing yards per game. Harding limited Johnson to only 58 yards on 18 carries.
Sykora completed 16-of-37 passes for 296 yards, but Harding intercepted three of his passes. Cantreall, Trendall Stevenson and Darious Lane each had interceptions, and defensive end B.J. Jones had 2.0 sacks and a forced fumble. Senior Daniel Riley had five tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, and a sack.