SEARCY -- Harding University's flexbone offense operated in fits and bursts against the University of Arkansas-Monticello on Saturday night, but the Bisons' defense was on point from start to finish at First Security Stadium.
The Bisons (1-1 Great American Conference) boxed up a UAM offense that passed for 287 yards and scored 26 points in a season-opening victory against Arkansas Tech, holding UAM (1-1) to 158 yards and 2.6 yards per play overall in a 24-0 victory that was not nearly as close as the final score indicates.
Almost all the big plays came courtesy of a Harding defense that turned two pass interceptions by Corey Batie into 10 points and a special teams unit that blocked a second-quarter punt that set up a touchdown.
Harding was leading 7-0 in the first quarter, but UAM was driving in Harding territory when facing a 3rd-and-2 situation at the Harding 30.
Junior quarterback Caleb Canady saw a wide-open Lacedrick Smith, but what he didn't see was Batie hiding behind him.
Batie stepped in front of the Canady pass and raced 75 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-0 with 7:31 to play in the first quarter.
Harding scored its next touchdown after Cade Pugh deflected a Josh Marini punt and Harding took over at the UAM 36.
Tristan Tucker (7-58 rushing) scored on a 3-yard to run to make it 21-0 UAM with 3:34 remaining in the first half.
UAM had a chance to score after recovering a botched spike attempt at the Harding 41 as the Bisons tried to stop the clock with less than 1 minute to go after picking up a first down at its 42.
The Boll Weevils lost 2 yards in 3 plays, and went for it on fourth down with less than 15 seconds to play.
But Canady once again didn't account for Batie, who stepped in front of a pass attempt at the Harding 17 and took it 77 yards before being pushed out of bounds by Canady at the UAM 6 with 7 seconds to play.
Grant Ennis kicked a 23-yard field goal with 3 seconds to play in the half, and that was all the scoring for the half and the game.
Harding outgained UAM 344-158, all of the yards on the ground.
Monticello ran 60 plays, but averaged 2.6 yards and suffered 2 interceptions.
Neither team was effective on third down, with UAM held to 2 of 14 and Harding good on 3 of 10.
The statistics did not tell the first-half story.
UAM ran 35 plays, 10 more than Harding, but Harding's interceptions and the blocked punt led to 17 Bisons points.
Harding outgained UAM 166-97, with all the yards coming on the ground.
UAM, which totaled 97 first-half yards, ran for 32 and passed for 65.
Canady, 11 for 21, was twice victimized by Batie, who returned a first-quarter interception 75 yards for Harding's second touchdown and then went 77 yards late in the first half with Harding leading 21-0.
Harding's only snafu in the first half came near the end of the first half after picking up a first-down on a 21-yard run by Tucker.
Quarterback Preston Paden, who shared playing time with junior Robert Wilcke, tried to spike the ball to stop the clock on first down and fumbled the snap at the Harding 33 with 37 seconds left.
UAM gained 2 yards in 3 plays and faced 4th and 12 at the Harding 34 when Canady looked deep into the secondary on 4th and 12 with less than 15 seconds to play.
Canady had plenty of time to throw, and had four receivers in the secondary, but the ball ended up in the hands of Batie, who sprinted down the Harding sideline before being pushed out of bounds by Canady at the Harding 6.
Batie's two interceptions rank as the 4th- and 6th-longest in the program's history, and his 152 total yards sets an all-time school record.
Batie's interception yardage totaled 6 less than UAM's offensive output for the game.
Harding did not attempt a pass in the first half after throwing an 85-yard touchdown and having 3 passes intercepted in the 16-14 season-opening loss to Ouachita Baptist.
Harding attempted 1 pass in the second half.
Wilcke replaced Paden for the third series in the first half but Paden came back in at the end of Harding's third touchdown drive when Wilcke had his helmet jarred off when picking up a first down on 4th and 2 from the UAM 6.
Tucker (10-99) scored on a pitch from Paden to complete an 8-play 36-yard Harding drive, set up by Pugh's deflection of Josh Marini's punt attempt from the UAM 33 with 8:27 to play in the first half.
Harding scored on its first possession for the second consecutive game, but the Bisons did it in much different fashion than last week's 85-yard touchdown pass on their first play.
This was a 5-play, 67-yard yard drive, all the yards coming on the ground, with Cole Chancey (15-96) going the final 5 yards with 10:27 to play in the quarter.
Taylor Bissell had the first big play, going 26 yards on a pitch from quarterback Paden to put the ball on the Boll Weevils' 41.
Chancey gained 36 yards off right guard on the next play to move the ball to the UAM 5.
Chancey was stuffed on first down, but found a gaping hole on second down to complete the drive that took up 3:36 on the clock.
NW News on 09/15/2019