Story and photo courtesy of Harding Athletics
DURANT, Okla. – Harding's offense rolled up nearly 400 yards of total offense, but Saturday's 31-9 victory for the 16th-ranked Bisons over Southeastern Oklahoma will be remembered for defense and special teams.
With the victory, Harding improved to 8-1 overall for the first time in 40 years. The Bisons moved to 6-1 in Great American Conference play and kept their hopes alive for their first NCAA playoff berth. Harding also went unbeaten in six games away from home for the first time since 1972.
The Bisons will host Southwestern Oklahoma next Saturday at 2 p.m. at First Security Stadium in the final game of the regular season.
Harding's victory snapped Southeastern Oklahoma's three-game winning streak and dropped the Savage Storm to 4-5 overall and 2-5 in the GAC.
Harding scored on its first two possessions. Sophomore John Gay kicked a 27-yard field goal that followed senior linebacker Aaron Gillaspie's interception on SOSU's first play from scrimmage. Two plays later, Gillaspie recovered a fumble to give the Bisons the ball again. On 3rd-and-7 at the SOSU 28, senior quarterback Kelvin Martin threw a pass over the middle to sophomore wide receiver Donatella Luckett, who went up over a defender to haul in his sixth touchdown reception of the season.
Harding led 10-0 until Southeastern Oklahoma kicker Chris Peoples made a 19-yard field goal to cap a 16-play, 73-yard drive that fizzled at the HU 2.
The Bisons fumbled on their first two possessions of the second quarter, and the Savage Storm drove deep into Harding territory. Both drives ended in field goal attempts blocked by the Bisons. Senior Ty Powell blocked the first, a 32-yard attempt, and senior Josh Aldridge blocked a 28-yarder, and Harding led 10-3 at halftime.
Harding's defense continued its stinginess in the second half, stopping Southeastern Oklahoma on downs on its first two possessions. The Bisons capitalized on the first stop by driving 52 yards on eight plays with sophomore Ahmad Scott scoring his fifth touchdown of the season from seven yards out. The score gave Harding a 17-3 lead after three quarters.
Harding had its longest drive of the game in the fourth quarter. With backup quarterback Keenan Kellett in, the Bisons drove 80 yards on 10 plays, and Kellett scored from a yard out to give Harding a 24-3 lead.
Southeastern Oklahoma scored on its next possession with SOSU backup quarterback Nick Sioson connecting on a 32-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ryan Shelley with 5:07 left.
The Savage Storm attempted an on-side kick, but Harding senior Rod Cohn fielded the kick at the 44-yard line and raced untouched for the Bisons' first kickoff return touchdown of the season.
Harding rushed for 338 yards with Kellett leading the way with 67 yards on 10 carries. D'Nico Jackson-Best had 63 yards on 11 carries, and Martin rushed 12 times for 49 yards.
Southeastern Oklahoma became the first team in the last eight games to rush for more than 100 yards against the Bisons, going for 125 on 36 carries. However, the Storm rushing total was 120 less than their season average. C.J. Kirk led SOSU with 65 yards on 16 carries.
Harding limited Southeastern Oklahoma to 285 total yards and only three points on four red zone possessions. Five different Bisons had five tackles, and Powell led the team with 2.0 tackles for loss.