Photo Courtesy: Harding Athletics (David Crouch)
WEATHERFORD, Oklah (HARDING) -- Southwestern Oklahoma quarterback Dustin Stenta led his team on a 44-yard drive and scored on an 8-yard touchdown run with 1:13 left to give the Bulldogs a 27-23 victory over Harding on Thursday in Great American Conference action at Fast Lane Field.
The loss was only the second for Harding in a season opener in the last 12 seasons. The Bisons will be back in action on Saturday, Sept. 14 against Southern Nazarene. Kickoff at First Security Stadium will be at 6 p.m.
Harding (0-1) held a 23-20 with 8:48 remaining after John Gay kicked a 34-yard field. The Bisons forced a punt on Southwestern's next possession, but had a costly fumble on a center-quarterback exchange as they attempted to run out the clock. The Bulldogs took over at the Harding 44-yard line and scored the eventual game-winning drive.
The Bisons had one final chance to score and advanced to the Bulldog 34-yard line before quarterback Jacob Moore's pass into the end zone fell just short of intended receiver Donatella Luckett.
Harding led 20-7 at halftime, but Southwestern closed the gap to 20-14 with 10:12 left in the third on a 3-yard touchdown run. The Bulldogs tied the game on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Stenta to Teverick Boyd with 14:47 left in the game. Kevin Cantrell's extra point missed to leave the game tied.
Harding took advantage of two Southwestern Oklahoma mistakes in their own territory for both of its first half scoring drives.
With 12:51 left in the second quarter, Bulldog punter Lucas Barry could not handle a low snap at the Southwestern 20. Harding linebacker Erik Ragsdale tackled Barry at the 11 where the Bisons took over. Three plays later, Harding starting quarterback Jacob Moore scored on a 1-yard sneak to put the Bisons ahead 7-0.
Southwestern responded with a 10-play, 80-yard drive, and the Bulldogs tied the game on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Stenta to Boyd with 7:09 left in the half.
After Harding's John Gay had a 36-yard field goal blocked, Southwestern regained possession at the 20. On third down, Stenta rolled right and had the ball hit off his thigh. Harding defensive tackle Romas Roberson recovered at the Southwestern 15. Moore rushed to the 8-yard line on second down but had to come out of the game with a leg injury. His replacement, redshirt freshman Park Parish, scored on the next play to give Harding a 13-7 lead with 2:03 left. Gay's extra point missed wide left. He had made 44 straight dating to last season.
Harding rushed for 232 yards and three touchdowns. Luckett led the Bisons with 55 rushing yards on two carries and 57 yards on three receptions. Moore was 5-for-15 for 105 yards and an interception. Southwestern had 390 total yards with Stenta completing 20-of-33 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns.
Philip Mion led the Harding defense with 12 tackles. Ashtun Williams added 10, including 1.5 for losses. Erik Ragsdale had nine tackles and his first career interception.