SPORTS >> Perryville presents strong test for Harding
Leader sports writer
The Harding Academy Wildcats are on to the second round of the AA state playoffs this week after a high-scoring opening-round win over the Earle Bulldogs 56-44. The Wildcats (11-0) will host the Perryville Mustangs (9-1) at Alumni Field in Searcy.
The Mustangs’ only loss this season came in week four to Little Rock Episcopal 27-16.
The Wildcats hope to give up fewer points than last week’s shootout against speedy Earle. Defense has been the strong suit of the undefeated Wildcats, shutting opponents’ offenses down, particularly in the second half. Harding Academy has, however, developed a reputation for giving up a lot of rushing yards to faster opponents once the playoff season begins.
Harding Academy head coach Tommy Shoemaker is not concerned going into Friday’s game, he says last week’s generosity was more of a special-teams issue than a defensive problem for the Wildcats.
“We swapped a little bit of our personnel around, but we didn’t make any drastic changes,” Shoemaker said.
“It wasn’t defense as much as it was poor special teams. Special teams killed us last week. We had that kickoff that they ran back for a touchdown, and a punt that they returned inside our 10-yard line. We did give up some big plays defensively, particularly in the red zone. It was probably one of those things where it wasn’t as bad as it may have looked.”
As for the reasons the game last week did not go as smoothly as desired for Harding Academy, Shoemaker says the drama of the 6AA title game against Des Arc two weeks ago could have been partially to blame.
“It was definitely not like how we played all year; our defense has been tremendous up until this point. I don’t really know why we gave up as much as we did, I think we might have had a little bit of a let down after the Des Arc game. All in all, I thought we did pretty well, especially offensively. Zach (Tribble) did a great job. We had a lot of guys make some great plays, some pretty spectacular catches that we were able to use to put points on the board.”
Shoemaker is not as worried about last week’s difficulty as much as he is concerned with this week’s game against Perryville.
“They are a very good football team. They have two kids that are very explosive in McNally and McSpadden.
“McNally is a big, strong runner that can do a lot of things on offense. We have to play well on defense, and we definitely have to do better on special teams. We just need to get in a little bit better rhythm this week.”