Upset-minded Tigers end their season against Harding Academy
SEARCY -- It didn't take long for Harding Academy to dash any hopes of an upset by the Green Forest Tigers in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs Friday night.
Harding Academy scored in four plays after taking the opening kickoff, then capitalized on a Green Forest turnover for a quick two-touchdown lead. The Wildcats went on to a 49-14 victory over the Tigers. The loss was the fifth in a row for Green Forest.
Alex Francis started the rout for Harding Academy (9-2), throwing a 26-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Harness to cap the Wildcats' opening possession. After Green Forest fumbled the ball away on its second play from scrimmage, Harding Academy took over at its own 43. Two passes moved the Wildcats to the Green Forest 1-yard line and Josh Walker ran for a touchdown. The extra point put Harding Academy ahead 14-0.
Green Forest answered with a methodic 10-play drive down the field, capped by Carl Roberts' 1-yard touchdown run with 5:44 remaining in the first quarter.
"We showed right off the bat that we could move the ball, and I felt like we did move the ball," Green Forest Coach Jay Martin said.
After a failed onside kick, Harding Academy took over at midfield and scored on a screen pass to Ryan Turley from 12 yards out for a 21-7 lead.
Green Forest failed to convert a fourth-down try at midfield on its next possession, and Francis threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Walker, making it 28-7 as the first quarter came to a close.
Green Forest threw a fourth-down interception inside the Harding Academy 20 on its next possession.
"Ultimately we moved the ball well, but we didn't find ways to finish drives off," Martin said.
The Wildcats added to their lead quickly, as Francis threw a 66-yard touchdown to Luke Fouts for a 35-7 lead with 6:50 remaining in the first half.
After a 40-yard punt by Green Forest's Mackenzie Arciga pinned the Wildcats at their own 19, Turley caught another wide receiver screen pass and went 81 yards for a touchdown, giving the Wildcats a 42-7 lead at halftime.
The Arkansas Activities Association sportsmanship rule was in effect for the second half.
Green Forest (3-8) drove to the Harding Academy 1 to open the half, but fumbled the ball into the end zone and Harding Academy recovered.
The Wildcats' backup quarterback, Garrison Hendrix, found Carter Sipe for a 12-yard touchdown pass to make it 49-7 midway through the third quarter.
The Tigers were determined to put together one more successful drive however. After sophomore quarterback Cory Bryant and Roberts combined for the first 21 yards of the drive, Nathaniel Harp finished it off with a 39-yard touchdown run right up the middle to make the final score 49-14.
While Martin was disappointed with the loss, he was pleased with what his team accomplished.
"I know people think (the 3A-1 conference) got five schools in the playoffs, but my goodness, these kids are back in the playoffs," Martin said. "This senior class played in five playoff games and we are proud of them."
Roberts led the team in rushing, with 158 yards on 28 attempts and a touchdown. Bryant had 139 yards on 25 carries. Harp only had three carries, but had 48 yards and a touchdown. Eddie Ojeda caught a pass for nine yards. Defensively, Roberts led the Tigers with five tackles. Baylor Deislinger, Riley Walker, Dalton Anglin, Martinez and Ojeda all had three. Ojeda also had a sack.