Photo Courtesy: Harding Athletics (Jeff Montgomery)
SEARCY, Ark. (Harding) - Harding's defense sacked East Central 10 times, limited the Tigers to -21 rushing yards, and returned an interception and a fumble for touchdowns Saturday in a 52-30 victory in Great American Conference action at First Security Stadium.
With the victory, Harding improved to 7-2 overall and in the GAC, remained tied for second in the conference with Ouachita Baptist, and kept its postseason hopes alive. It was the Bisons' seventh straight victory over the Tigers in Searcy and dropped East Central to 4-5 overall and in the GAC.
Harding scored 28 points in the first quarter with two offensive touchdowns and two defensive touchdowns. Junior Darious Lane intercepted a pass by East Central quarterback Spencer Bond on the second play of the game and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown.
The Bisons also scored two rushing touchdowns on 1-yard runs by quarterback Keenan Kellett and fullback Romo Westbrook to make it 21-0 with 1:02 left in the first quarter. It was the 10th rushing touchdown of the season for both players, and they became the first Harding teammates with 10 or more rushing touchdowns in the same season.
Westbrook led Harding's rushing attack with 94 yards on 18 carries and the touchdown. It was Westbrook's eighth straight game with at least one rushing touchdown.
East Central took over at the Harding 48 on its next possession, but redshirt freshman Daylan Skidmore forced a fumble from Tiger tailback JoJo Snell. Harding junior defensive back Terrell Hill recovered the fumble and returned it 42 yards for Harding's fourth touchdown of the first quarter. It was also the 53rd touchdown of the season, breaking the school record of 52 touchdowns by the 2011 team.
Harding led 31-10 at halftime and East Central never got any closer.
Tiger senior wide receiver Caleb Holley had seven receptions for 125 yards and three touchdowns, but Harding's defense controlled the line of scrimmage. The Bisons set school records with 10 sacks and had 19 total tackles for losses. Daniel Riley led Harding with 2.5 sacks and 3.0 tackles for loss. Redshirt freshman Arthur Akers also had two sacks, and redshirt freshman Matt McKeown forced a fumble and had an interception.
Harding junior kicker John Gay kicked a career-long 47-yard field goal in the second quarter, and Kellett threw touchdown passes of 45 yards to Alex Finley and 37 yards to Eric Kelly for the Bisons' two third quarter scores. Junior Ahmad Scott scored on a two-yard touchdown run in the fourth.
Finley, one of 16 Bisons playing their final games at First Security Stadium, had three catches for a career-high 129 yards. Kellett completed 7-of-11 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns, and Harding's NCAA-leading rushing offense compiled 304 yards.