No. 5 Harding claims NCAA playoff victory over No. 20 Central Missouri

From Harding Sports
Scott Goode, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information

SEARCY – Senior quarterback Park Parish rushed for 118 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 173 yards and another touchdown to lead No. 5 Harding to a 48-31 victory over No. 20 Central Missouri in the first round of the NCAA Division II Playoffs on Saturday at First Security Stadium.

The victory was Harding’s first in three NCAA playoff games and gave the Bisons a 12-0 record. Harding also reached the playoffs in 2012 and 2014. Harding, the No. 3 seed in Super Region 3, advances to play No. 2 seed Sioux Falls next Saturday in South Dakota.

Central Missouri, the No. 6 seed in Super Region 3, made its first playoff appearance since 2010 and finished its season 9-3.

Parish scored his first rushing touchdown with 2:09 left in the second quarter to give Harding a 21-17 lead, its first of the game. The score culminated a 12-play, 78-yard drive that took seven minutes.

Harding’s defense forced Central Missouri’s first punt of the game on its next possession, but a fumbled punt return gave the Mules the ball at Harding’s 26. Central Missouri scored two plays later on a 23-yard pass from quarterback Garrett Fugate to Jaylen Zachery, and the Mules led 24-21 with only 42 seconds remaining in the half.

Senior Corey Bassett caught the ensuing kickoff at the Harding 7, cut to the left and outran the Central Missouri coverage for a 93-yard touchdown that gave the Bisons a 28-24 lead at halftime. He became the first Bison ever to return two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same season.

Central Missouri took its last lead early in the second half on Kyle Echols 25-yard touchdown reception from Fugate, but the Mules did not score again.

Harding took the lead for good on Eric Simmons’ 18-yard touchdown run with 6:40 left in the third quarter. The big play of the drive came on a 39-yard pass from Parish to Andrew Dather over the middle.

After a Central Missouri 3-and-out, Parish struck again on a 41-yard touchdown run that gave Harding a 41-31 lead with 1:35 left in the third. Parish sealed the victory with an 81-yard touchdown pass to Dather with 10:16 left in the game.

Harding had 530 total yards, including 355 on the ground and a season-high 173 in the air. Central Missouri had 381 total yards, 327 of them coming in the passing game. The Mules had only 91 yards in the second half.

Parish’s 118 rushing yards came on 21 carries. He was 6-of-7 passing, and Dather had a career-high 149 receiving yards on four catches.

Simmons, a senior slot back, had seven carries for a career-high 91 yards and his second career two-touchdown game.

Fugate was Central Missouri’s leading rusher with 29 yards on 12 carries and a 13-yard touchdown run. He completed 22-of-28 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns before exiting with 9:39 left in the game with an injury.

Harding controlled the ball for almost 39 minutes and did not punt for the second time this season.

Senior linebacker Daylan Skidmore led Harding’s defensive attack with eight tackles, including two sacks and a fumble recovery.

Sioux Falls, the No. 2 seed and now undefeated at 12-0, won 34-21 on Saturday over No. 7 seed Azusa Pacific.

Notes: Harding now has three postseason victories in program history. The others came at the 1972 Cowboy Bowl, a 30-27 victory over Langston, and at the 2013 Live United Texarkana Bowl, a 44-3 victory over Texas A&M-Commerce … Bassett’s 93-yard kickoff return was the fifth-longest in program history … Bassett also blocked a field goal attempt … Parish’s 81-yard pass to Dather was tied for the sixth-longest in program history.

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