SPORTS>>Wildcats take first loss
Special to the Leader
SEARCY — A speedy and stingy Mayflower defense and what appeared to be a baffled Harding Academy offense turned into a 16-7 Mayflower victory that placed the Eagles in the driver’s seat in the Conference 3A-2 race.
The setback was the first of the season for the Wildcats and the first at theschool for new coach Roddy Mote. Both teams are now 6-1 overall and 3-1 in league play. The Eagles’ lone loss came against Class 4A DeQueen. Mayflower knocked off Class 5A Greenbrier earlier in the season.
Harding Academy recovered its onside kick to begin the game and promptly marched 49 yards in 9 plays for what would be its only score of the game.
The Wildcats’ remaining drives resulted in five punts, three possessions ending on downs and a turnover.
“We moved it OK at times between the 20s,” Mote said afterward. “We just couldn’t finish when we got it into the red zone.”
The Wildcats advanced inside the Mayflower 20-yard line twice after the opening drive but came up empty both times.
After recovering the surprise onside kick to start the game, quarterback Seth Keese connected with Ty Finley for eight yards on a 4th-and-3 from the Mayflower 43, then hit Tyler Gentry for 18 yards on 3rd-and-4 from the 28 to set up Keese’s 2-yard TD run. Zach Medley’s PAT kick gave the Wildcats a 7-0 lead with 9:12 left in the opening quarter.
Mayflower, however, delivered a sign of things to come, though. The Eagles answered immediately, recovering another attempted onside kick. Deshaun Bagby ran 13 yards before fullback Gavin Pace rambled 32 yards to the Harding Academy one where he was hit from behind and lost the football. Mayflower’s Buck Finkbiner fell on the loose ball in the end zone for the touchdown.
Bagby ran for two points and a lead the Eagles would not surrender.
Both Bagby and Pace finished the game with more than 100 yards on the ground. Bagby totaled 123 yards on 17 carries and Pace ran for 105 yards on 22 carries. It was Bagby’s backup, though, who would later put the game on ice.
The Eagles threatened again on their second possession of the game but Braxton Bennett picked off Bagby’s reverse pass at the Harding Academy 11. Mayflower forced an HA punt and went back to work, running 10 plays before Medley sacked Eagles’ quarterback Jordan Dycus on 4th-and-6 at the Wildcats’ 24.
A possession later, Gentry picked off a Dycus pass and returned it 34 yards to the Mayflower 18. The Wildcats managed a single first down before Keese threw incomplete twice to stop the threat.
The Eagles had a chance to score again before the half. Bagby’s 53-yard run put Mayflower in business at the HA 27, but the Eagles ran out the clock and settled for the 8-7 halftime lead.
With the sophomore Keese struggling to find any rhythm, Mote went to senior backup QB Matt Lincoln in the third quarter but the Wildcats fared no better. Keese finished the game completing 10-of-27 passes for 96 yards. Lincoln completed 1-of-4, a 17-yarder to Finley.
With Bagby banged up in the third quarter, the Eagles put the ball in the hands of junior backup tailback Demetris Lasker.
Lasker carried seven times in a 12-play drive that covered 91 yards. The junior’s 5-yard TD run on 4th-and-2 and his own 2-point run set the final score.
Lasker finished with 76 yards on 9 carries and Mayflower totaled 294 yards on the ground and 377 total yards.
Harding Academy’s final drive ended on downs at the Mayflower 39 before the Eagles ran out the clock.
Mote emphasized his team’s goals are still intact following the loss.
“We’re still a state championship-caliber team,” Mote said. “Our goals are still our goals. It depends on which direction these kids want to go right now.
“I know the kind of kids I’m leading, though, and they’re kids with fire in their hearts and they’ll compete. We’ve had a setback but we’re still a good team.”
Harding Academy, which travels to crosstown Riverview next Friday, managed just 181 total yards against the Eagles. Finley led the ground game with 54 yards on 13 carries.
Mayflower hosts Barton next Friday.