SPORTS >> Postseason finally here as Wildcats face Eagles
It’s been a long time coming.
The Harding Academy Wild-cats will finally begin 3A postseason play this Friday at First Security Stadium in Searcy when they host the Paris Eagles.
Paris (8-3) advanced last Friday with a 34-12 victory over Cave City in the first round.
The Wildcats (10-0) won the 2-3A Conference to secure a first-round bye, but the playoffs were postponed a week to clear up the eligibility status of Lamar in a legal fight that went all the way to the Fifth Judicial District to be decided.
Paris began the postseason as the No. 3 seed out of the 4-3A Conference after the controversy surrounding 4-3A conference foe Lamar knocked the Eagles down from their original No. 2 seed.
Lamar was awarded its spot after judge Gordon McCain ordered the Arkansas Activities Association to reinstate the Warriors and reverse a previous forfeit.
Last week should have been the first week of playoff action for the Wildcats before the eligibility issue, but they instead sat out in what became their bye week.
“With the three weeks that we’ve had off now, I can tell you one thing — we’re ready to play,” Harding Academy coach Roddy Mote said. “I don’t know anything else as far as how sharp or rusty we’ll be, but I think our kids will get after you. The first week was okay, we changed some things up, but that second week, well, we’re just ready to play.”
Former North Little Rock coach Bryan Hutson is now in his third year at Paris and led the Eagles to seven straight victories in the regular season before falling to eventual 4-3A champion Perryville and Lamar in the final two weeks.
“They’re 8-3 now; they gotbeat by the one and two seeds in that conference and they beat a good Cave City team,” Mote said. “Coach Hutson does a good job over there, and they have decent team speed. With one win under their belts, there are no more pushovers left. They are a very good football team.”
The Wildcats’ biggest foe this year has been injuries, especially in the offensive backfield. Harding Academy was down to its fourth-string running back at one point in the season.
Will Harden suffered a stress fracture in Week 3, which put Ben Lecrone in as the starting running back. Lecrone went down with an injury in the Mayflower game, as did his replacement Tyler Yarbrough.
Yarbrough went out with a broken collarbone, but sophomore David Brooker dutifully filled in at the tailback spot until his teammates recovered.
“We’re all healthy now,” Mote said. “If you’re a good football team, you’re going to have to prove it and overcome some adversity at some point in the season. I’m proud of our kids to be able to overcome what we had to face.”
Junior quarterback/linebacker Seth Keese has remained healthy all season, and has been a big factor on both sides of the ball. Keese has thrown for close to 2,000 yards in 10 games this year, not to mention key interceptions and stops on defense.
“He touches the football on every play,” Mote said. “Having him healthy has been pretty big for us. I think it’s been proven throughout the years at any school on this level that the quarterback is a key position.
“He’s been a huge part of our offense, and he does a great job on the defensive side. He loves the element of contact; he’s very aggressive.”