William Meyer, Sports Information Director
SEARCY – The game came down to a fourth and goal play at the Ouachita five-yard line. Harding quarterback Preston Paden rolled out of the pocket looking for Bobby Green in the back of the endzone and over shot, the wide receiver as No. 6/7 Ouachita escaped with a 7-3 victory over No. 19/15 Harding.
Ouachita is now 6-0 for the first time since the 2014 season and it is the third time this decade the team has accomplished this feat. This was the lowest scoring game involving a Harding (4-2) team since the 1989 season.
The last time Ouachita won a game with only one touchdown on the scoreboard was back in 1993 when the Tigers defeated both Southwest Baptist and Northwestern Oklahoma State 7-0 to open up the season. Harding also snapped the Tigers 94 game double-digit scoring streak.
Jon Johnson (Haskell, Ark.) and Dameyun McDonald (Helena, Ark.) anchored a defense that shutdown the No. 1 rushing offense in the nation on Saturday night. It was the Bisons first game without a rushing touchdown since a 2016 playoff game against Northwest Missouri State.
For the first time all season the Ouachita offense was held under 200 yards of total offense. The Tigers rushing attack of Kris Oliver (Arkadelphia, Ark.), Brockton Brown (Sheridan, Ark.) and Shun’cee Thomas (Bossier City, La.) accumulated 106 of the teams 110 total rushing yards. Thomas also gave the Tigers their only score of the night.
Drew Harris (Benton, Ark.) stepped in at quarterback for an injured Brayden Brazeal (England, Ark.) and threw for 60-yards in the game. Harris himself was coming off an injury and it was his first time playing quarterback since his junior year of high school.
Sophomore punter Jake Ford (Australia) might be the team MVP tonight after a seven-punt performance. Ford averaged 43.6 yards per punt, with a long of 50 yards and one punt was placed inside the 20-yardline.
First Quarter: Ouachita 0, Harding 0
The first quarter saw the two powerhouses feeling each other out like a pair of heavy weight champions going at it. The two battled for field position as there was just 67 total yards of offense combined between Ouachita and Harding. Meanwhile, the punters were doing a great job of pinning the other team back as both punters averaged 42 yards a kick.
Second Quarter: Ouachita 0, Harding 3
With 4:22 remaining in the opening quarter of play, Harding started one of their longest drives of the night. The drive continued into the opening minutes of the second quarter and when it was all set and done the Bisons had gone on a 16-play 76-yard drive. The bend but don’t break defense worked to perfection for Ouachita as they forced Harding to take a field goal.
The Tigers ended up punting on every drive in the second quarter. Harding took over on their own 47-yardline with 29 seconds remaining in the half. The Bisons made it as far as the Ouachita 33 before they brought out the field goal team with eight seconds remaining in the half. Harding kicker Cameron Scott missed a 51-yard attempt and that seemed to give Ouachita some of the momentum back.
Going into halftime Ouachita had only possessed the ball for 8:54 of the entire first half. Ford averaged 44-yards per punt, while the Tiger offense accumulated just 44 total yards in the entire first half.
Third Quarter: Ouachita 0, Harding 3
Harding received the second half kick-off and went on long methodical drive in an attempt to keep the ball away from Ouachita. The Bison executed 13 plays in a row and were knocking on the goal line, on the 14th play of drive the Tigers defense knocked the ball out and recovered the fumble. The Bison took 8:15 off the clock before Ouachita even touched the ball. The defensive stop gave the Tigers the momentum boost they were hoping for.
Ouachita took over at the five-yard line and began what appeared to be a positive drive. A penalty and a botched snap later had the Tigers facing a second-and-28. Ford went out for his seventh punt of the night and boomed another punt down the field.
The Tigers forced a punt at the start of the fourth quarter and began the drive at their own 15-yardline. Brown began the drive with a 26-yard run up the sideline to set the Tigers up on their own 41-yardline. Moments later Harris found wide receiver La’Darius McElroy (Ashdown, Ark.) for a 24-yard gain and inside the redzone for the first time in the game. On the next play, Thomas exploded down the right side of the field for the Tigers only score of the game.
Harding got the ball back for their second drive of the half with 9:22 remaining in the final quarter of action. The Bisons looked determined as they picked up three-to-five yards on almost every carry. The Tiger defense clamped down and appeared to have the Bisons stopped, but Matt Fuller broke a 16-yard run on fourth down to keep the drive alive.
With under two minutes to go in the game the Ouachita defense was backed up deep in their own territory. Harding had four chances starting at the eight-yard line. On second and goal, Cole Chancey ran up the middle for a six-yard gain, putting the Bisons just a single yard away from the go-ahead touchdown. With 1:20, remaining in the game one of the biggest moments of the game happened. Paden attempted a quarterback sneak but was met by Johnson at the line of scrimmage and was unable to break the goal line plain with the nose of the football.
On fourth and goal, Harding pounded the ball in and it appeared the Bisons had won, but a flag was thrown for illegal motion giving the Tigers one more chance to stop Harding with 28 seconds remaining in the game. Paden rolled to his right but the Tigers top ranked secondary had every receiver covered and forced Paden to throw the ball out of the endzone.
The Tigers were able to go into victory formation for the fifth time this season as they watched the final seconds tick off the clock. Ouachita brought home the Traveling Trophy for the first time in three years and it is the second rivalry trophy the Tigers have captured this season.
Ouachita will be on the road again next week against Oklahoma Baptist. Kick-off for next weekend’s game is scheduled for 1:00 p.m.