SPORTS>>Wildcats get back on track, halt Riverview’s win streak
Special to The Leader
Approximately two miles separate the campuses of Harding Academy and Riverview High Schools. On Friday night at the Raiders’ home field, the 47-7 victory for the Harding Academy Wildcats made it appear the schools’ football programs are much farther apart.
Riverview, a first-year program, saw its record evened at 4-4 overall. The Raiders, who had won three in a row, dropped to 3-2 in league play.
The Wildcats, 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the 3A-2 Conference, led just 14-7 at halftime before returning two interceptions for touchdowns in the opening minutes of the second half. Without running an offensive play, Harding Academy had stretched its lead to 28-7 and the Raiders never recovered.
Under tremendous pressure, Riverview quarterback Grafton Harrell threw one ball up for grabs and another was released as he was being hit. The first was returned 40 yards by James Dillard for a score. On their next possession, the Raiders marched to the HA 22, aided by Harrell’s 26-yard run, before Jimmie Harper picked off an errant pass and outran everyone 85 yards for a 28-7 lead with 7:58 to go.
Harrell, a junior, injured his ribs on the play and did not return. In his absence, the Wildcats put the game completely out of reach.
“Their pressure on our quarterback was definitely the difference in the game,” Riverview coach Stuart Hill said afterward. “Every passing team Harding Academy plays, they’ve been able to get good pressure on the quarterback. We worked on it; we knew they were going to do it. We just couldn’t stop it.”
Hill said more would be known on Saturday about Harrell’s condition, but it was likely he would be ready for next Friday when the Raiders travel to Barton. Harding Academy came out quickly on offense, opening the game with a 5-play, 70-yard drive highlighted by a 24-yard completion from Matt Lincoln to Tate Benton that set up a 39-yard screen pass to Ty Finley for the score. Lincoln then hit Braxton Bennett on a 2-point pass for an 8-0 lead.
After a quick three-and-out for the Raiders, Harding Academy went right back to work, marching 67 yards in 12 plays.
Lincoln’s 10-yard pass to Dillard in the right corner of the end zone pushed the lead to 14-0 with 4:23 left in the opening quarter.
Lincoln, an all-state selection at quarterback last season, started for the first time this year at quarterback while sophomore starter Seth Keese nursed an ankle injury. Harding Academy coach Roddy Mote said the decision for Keese to sit was dictated by the Wildcats’ playoff plans.
“He has a bad ankle and we need to get people well for the playoffs,” Mote said. “We’re fortunate to have someone of Lincoln’s caliber to come in a do a great job the way he did.”
Lincoln, who has nursed a separated shoulder most of the season, normally starts at wideout. He completed 18-of-22 passes for 183 yards in the first half alone and finished 22-of-27 for 254 yards and 4 touchdowns. Nine different receivers caught passes for the Wildcats, led by Finley’s 6 catches for 69 yards.
After Harding Academy staked itself to the early 14-0 lead, Riverview came up with an answer. Harrell, who has topped 200 yards rushing in two different games this season, scampered nine yards on a 3rd-and-1 from the Riverview 49. Four plays later, Harrell connected with Zach Feagin for 14 yards on 4th-and-7 to keep the drive alive. On 3rd-and-10 from the Harding Academy 25, Harrell hit Ben Overstreet for 11 yards, setting up Harrell’s 14-yard touchdown run. Jared Dillard’s kick pulled Riverview to within 14-7 with 23 seconds left in the opening quarter.
The teams traded possessions before the Wildcats drove to the Riverview six in the closing seconds before the half. Lincoln fumbled at the 6, though, and the Raiders’ Chase Hunton came away with the recovery.
“We executed pretty well early,” Mote said. “After that, we had some penalties and turnovers that killed some drives. I thought we were in control the whole way, though.”
After the Wildcats returned the two interceptions for touchdowns and the ailing Harrell found a seat on the Raiders’ sideline, Braxton Bennett intercepted Jared Dillard’s pass to set up a 34-yard touchdown pass from Lincoln to Tyler Gentry. A quick Riverview punt led to the Wildcats’ most time-consuming drive of the night. Harding Academy drove 72 yards in 11 plays before Lincoln hit Corey Guymon with a 5-yard TD pass that pushed the lead to 41-7 after Zach Medley’s PAT.
Harding Academy tacked on a late TD run by Will Hardin, who went 20 yards with 46 seconds remaining.
Riverview managed just 182 total yards. Harrell finished 4-of-17 passing for 47 yards and ran for 73 yards on 11 carries.
Harding Academy rolled up 420 total yards. Hardin, who played just the final two possessions, led all rushers with 81 yards on 8 carries.
Hill avoided any moral victories to be found in the Raiders’ 14-7 halftime deficit.
“It’s nice that we were able to play a top-5 team for a half,” Hill said. “But, we’re always looking to see if we’re improving. At times, we can see how far we’ve come … but at other times, we realize we still have a long way to go.”
The Wildcats clinched their fifth consecutive playoff berth with the victory. The Wildcats travel to meet Brinkley next Friday.
Riverview travels to Barton for a game that likely will determine the third- and fourth-seed from the conference in the state playoffs.