SPORTS >>Harding Academy cruises
By RICK BUTLER
Special to the Leader
SEARCY – The Harding Academy defense took away any of the dramatics on Friday night at First Security Stadium as the Wildcats remained unbeaten in the 2-3A Conference with a 28-14 victory over Yellville-Summit.
Thanks to the Wildcats’ defense, the final score became quite deceptive.
Harding Academy, now 6-0 overall and 4-0 in conference play, nearly pitched a shutout of the previously explosive Panthers’ offense. Y-S avoided being blanked for the first time this season when Brandon Evans plunged over from six yards out with 5:38 to play against Harding Academy reserves.
The Panthers, who had won four consecutive games coming in, then took advantage of a Harding Academy turnover in the final minute to tack on another score.
Despite a sluggish first half on the offensive side, the Wildcats dominated the first 43 minutes of the game. They led just 7-0 at the half after Luke Tribble connected with Chris Pack on a 13-yard touchdown pass with five minutes left in the second quarter.
Harding Academy managed just 140 total yards in the first two quarters, mostly due to Yellville-Summit’s ball-control offense eating up the clock.
The second half was a different story.
Tribble capped the Wildcats’ first possession of the third quarter by hitting Pack again with a three-yard scoring pass.
Tribble’s extra-point kick made it 14-0 with 9:50 left in the third. Six minutes later, J.T. Fisher scored on a five-yard run to make it 21-0.
Fisher took a middle screen from Tribble 50 yards for Harding Academy’s final tally early in the final quarter.
Harding Academy coach Tommy Shoemaker claimed no adjustments at halftime, despite his team’s slow start on offense.
“We made no adjustments, we didn’t do anything different offensively in the second half except that we started executing,” he said. “Part of the problem in the first half, of course, was that they did a good job not letting us have the ball.”
Yellville-Summit quarterback Tim Murray – averaging 10.5 yards per carry entering the game – was held at bay by the stingy HA defense. Murray kept the ball 27 times against the Wildcats but managed just 99 yards.
“We did a good job of controlling a pretty good offense tonight,” Shoemaker said. “Compared to what they’ve been doing to other teams, we really played them well. The thing about the ball-control style they play … if you don’t play a perfect game, it makes it tough on an offense.”
Harding Academy’s offense had its chances early in the game but failed to capitalize. The Wildcats lost yardage and were forced into a punt on their first series, despite starting at the Y-S 25 after tackling the Panthers’ punter for a loss.
The Wildcats got the ball back moments later at their own 48 and, after a couple first downs moved the ball to the Y-S 22, turned the ball over on downs.
“We had some shots there early that we should have taken advantage of,” Shoemaker said. “I’m just glad we were able to come out and play better the second half.”
Tribble, playing on an ankle injury suffered late in the first quarter, came back strong the second half and finished 16-of-23 passing for 293 yards. Fisher had four catches for 100 yards while Pack caught 6 of 99 and a pair of scores.
The Wildcats are now in the odd position of having to turn around and play another conference game on Monday, a makeup of their postponed game at Cave City from Sept. 23.
“The only real good thing about it is that Cave City is in the same boat,” Shoemaker said. “It’s not ideal by any means. We got some kids banged up tonight and we’ll probably hold a few out on Monday.
“We’re planning a walk-through on Sunday afternoon, though, and we’ll be ready to go on Monday night.”
Cave City is a first-year program still in search of its first conference victory.