SPORTS >>'Cats act as Hector's Achilles in double OT
By JASON KING
Leader sports writer
Harding Academy came within two inches of having its season end at the hands of the Hector Wildcats on Friday night at First Security Stadium in Searcy, but held on at the end of regulation to force overtime. The HA Wildcats would finally prevail after two overtimes, taking a nail-biting 35-29 win over the other Wildcats to advance to the quarterfinals next week.
The game had the look of a potential blowout in the first half. Four turnovers from Hector senior quarterback Ryan White gave the Harding Academy offense plenty of opportunities. HA would cash in on those opportunities with three TD’s in the first half to lead 22-6 at the half.
The adjustments Hector made on both sides of the football at halftime worked. Hector shut down HA quarterback Luke Tribble after the senior had a near-perfect game in the first two quarters.
White’s ability to hold on to the football in the second half was the biggest offensive variable for Hector, but a call to go for it on fourth down and inches right at the Harding Academy goal line with only one second left in regulation would prove to be the deciding factor in the game.
Hector initially lined up for an easy 18-yard field goal attempt for kicker Greg Condley, but came back out in an offensive formation after a Harding Academy time out, forcing HA to burn up another time out to adjust.
Harding Academy senior nose guard James Kee had made little noise all night, but stepped up when his team needed him the most. Kee met White at the goal line as he attempted to cross it, knocking him backwards to end regulation in a 22-22 tie.
Both teams came away with easy scores in the first overtime, but it was Kee making a critical defensive play once again in the second overtime to help seal the game for HA. With Hector facing a long fourth and 28, Kee sacked White at the 35-yard line to end Hector’s possession.
Tribble only needed one play to clinch the game from there, running it up the gut on an option keep for the score and advancing the team to quarterfinal action.
“Hector did a great job coming back in the second half,” Harding Academy coach Tommy Shoe-maker said. “They made some really good plays; those kids played really hard. I’m proud of our kids, they just didn’t quit. They had us there at the end.”
Shoemaker was relieved to come away with the close win, but says lack of execution early in the second half put them in the tight spot they faced.
“You know, you’re two inches away from losing the ball game, to make a stop like that and then execute two drives says a lot about our kids’ character,” Shoemaker said. “We had some opportunities in the second half. They fought to the end, that’s for sure.”
Hector struck first in the game on its opening offensive play. Senior fullback Thomas Robertson ran it up the middle untouched for a 63-yard touchdown at the 10:21. The extra-point attempt from Condley was no good, leaving Hector’s early lead at 6-0.
HA got its offense rolling courtesy of momentum-shifting turn-overs from White. The Hector defense held HA on downs on the next drive, but White coughed up the ball at the Hector 17-yard line, giving the Wildcats great field position. Tribble rolled right on first down, and found senior receiver Chris Pack in the middle of the field for a 17-yard touchdown pass with 6:20 left in the first quarter. Tribble faked the extra-point kick, running it in on the left side to push HA ahead 8-6.
Tribble found Chase Ransom in the corner of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown pass that brought the first quarter to a close. Ransom bobbled the ball in the air twice before finally pulling it down.
Tribble scored once more be-fore halftime on a 34-yard run with 2:23 left, giving the Wildcats the momentum at the half.
That momentum would not last long in the second half.
Hector scored right away in the third, going 67 yards in five plays and scoring with 10:32 left in the quarter. Lucas Watson ran in the two-point attempt to pull Hector to within eight, 22-14.
White ran in the next Hector score from two yards out with two minutes left in the third. He was stopped on the two-point run, but fumbled as he went down and the ball rolled right into the hands of teammate Keaton Domerese in the end zone to tie the score at 22 all.
Tribble was 18 for 28 passing for 205 yards and two touchdowns. He also carried 12 times for 80 yards and three scores.
Harding Academy will play Lafayette County at home next week in the quarterfinals. The Cougars, the No. 3 seed from the 3A-7 Conference, advanced with a 27-12 win over Lake Village.