RUSSELLVILLE — Harding senior safety Philip Mion had a game-changing fumble return and a key late interception to lead the Bisons to a 28-17 victory over Arkansas Tech on Saturday in Great American Conference action at Thone Stadium.
Harding improved to 8-2 overall and in the GAC, winning eight or more games in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history. Arkansas Tech dropped to 5-6 overall and 5-5 in the GAC.
The Bisons’ postseason possibilities remain uncertain. Harding was ranked No. 10 in NCAA Division II Super Region 3 prior to the contest. The top six teams in the Super Region advance to the Division II Playoffs. More likely for Harding is a berth in the inaugural Texarkana Live United Bowl, which goes to the team in the GAC with the best record that did not make the playoffs.
Saturday’s game turned on the next-to-last play of the first half with the game tied at 7-7.
With 30 seconds remaining before halftime, Arkansas Tech had the ball at the Harding 4-yard line and a chance to take its first lead of the game. Following a timeout, quarterback Justin Owens headed right on 4th-and-1, but sophomore Daylan Skidmore knocked the ball loose and Mion scooped it at the 6-yard line and took it 94 yards for the second-longest fumble return in program history.
In 1960, Harding’s Jerry Mote, now the team’s color commentator on the radio broadcasts, returned a fumble 99 yards against the University of the Ozarks.
Arkansas Tech cut the lead to 14-10 on a 41-yard field goal by Tim VanOrsdol on the Wonder Boys’ first possession of the second half, but the Bisons took over from there.
Junior Ahmad Scott scored on a 22-yard run with 6:32 left in the third to give Harding a 21-10 lead.
Harding’s defense forced three Tech turnovers in the fourth quarter alone. The second turnover, a fumble recovered by Romas Roberson, led to a 1-yard touchdown by quarterback Keenan Kellett to give the Bisons a 28-10 advantage. It was Kellett’s second touchdown of the game and his 12th rushing score, tying him with Mike Vanlandingham (1978) for second-most in a Harding single season.
Arkansas Tech answered with a 50-yard touchdown pass from Preston Conder to Jerry Anderson on their next play to trim Harding’s lead to 11 points. The Wonder Boys were in Bison territory on their next possession, but with 2:36 left, Mion made his team-leading third interception of the season to seal the victory.
Harding’s top-ranked rushing offense rolled to 300 yards on 64 carries, led by junior Romo Westbrook’s 91 yards on 20 carries. Kellett carried 17 times for 79 yards and completed four passes for 45 yards.
Arkansas Tech had only 46 rushing yards on 24 carries. Wonder Boy quarterbacks Conder and Luke Halpin combined to complete 24 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns.
Junior Dennis Bucker had a team-high nine tackles, including a tackle for loss, and a pass breakup.
Mion was the first Bison since current graduate assistant Jason Thomasson (2009 vs. Missouri Southern) with an interception and a fumble recovery in the same game.