SPORTS >> Wildcats are stoking home fires in playoffs
By JASON KING
Harrisburg has the potential to be the toughest test to date for Harding Academy when it plays host to the Hornets in the 3A state quarterfinals at First Security Stadium this Friday.
The Hornets (11-1) suffered their only loss to eventual 3-3A Conference champion Rivercrest, 44-28, in Week 4. The loss wound up making Harrisburg the conference’s No. 2 seed.
The Hornets advanced through the first round with a 56-42 victory over Jessieville and made the quarterfinals by beating Harmony Grove 34-7 last Friday.
“They’re a real good football team,” Harding Academy coach Roddy Mote said. “They have a good blocking and running game, and they have talented receivers. They’re really aggressive on defense.
“They’ve played against several run-oriented teams in their conference and did well.”
The Wildcats (11-0) ended three weeks of inactivity and the Paris Eagles’ season on Friday with a 43-13 rout in the second round. Harding Academy took early control as Paris hurt its cause with five fumbles, two of which were on kickoffs following Wildcat scores.
Harding Academy, like all teams in the 3A classification, had to wait a week for Lamar’s playoff eligibility issue to be resolved through a court decision that reinstated Lamar for the postseason.
Any concerns about Harding Academy — which also had a first-round bye — being off for so long were quickly put to rest last week when quarterback Seth Keese connected with Tyler Gentry for a 63-yard touchdown pass in the first 30 seconds of the game. Landry Shipman then recovered a fumble at the Paris 27 on the ensuring kickoff to set up a long touchdown run by Keese with 10:56 left in the first quarter.
“I know the kids were ready to play,” Mote said. “We wanted to go out and play hard, and I felt like we did that. We had a few blown plays and some penalties, but we were able to create some turnovers and capitalize on them.
“It was just good to actually play.”
Keese and the Wildcat offense have turned in hefty numbers through the first 11 games. The junior quarterback has completed 142 of 214 pass attempts for 2,146 yards and 20 touchdowns with only five interceptions. He also has 685 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on 92 carries.
That puts Keese just behind leading rusher Ben Lecrone, who has 688 yards and 12 touchdowns on 99 carries.
Gentry tops the receiving category with 42 catches for 847 yards and 10 touchdowns. James Dillard is the Wildcat who comes close to Gentry’s numbers with 26 receptions for 344 yards and two scores.
“I’ve felt like we’ve been pretty balanced,” Mote said. “You get in certain situations where you have to try and attack a defense, and sometimes it’s the running game and other times the passing game that is productive.
“You don’t always get big plays in the game; it just turned out that we had some against Paris.”
The Wildcats’ undefeated run through the 2-3A Conference has given them home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
There has been debate recently over the real value of playing at home but, home or away, Mote is just glad to still be taking the field — any field — on Friday nights.
“We enjoy playing at home,” Mote said. “And it’s good to get the opportunity to do that. But basically whatever situation we’re in will be good. If we have to play on the road, that’s okay too.
“It’s just great to be in the playoffs. Sometimes there are factors you just have to overlook and just go play.”