ARKADELPHIA — In a game that will be remembered forever in Reddie lore, No. 18 Henderson State erased a 28-0 first-quarter deficit on Saturday night and rallied to defeat Southern Arkansas 56-49 in the greatest comeback in Great American Conference history.
The incredible win improved Henderson to 4-0 on the year and set in stone a matchup of the final two unbeaten teams in the GAC next Saturday in Durant, Oklahoma.
It was a nightmare start for the Reddies at home against the Muleriders. HSU threw three first-quarter interceptions, including a 35-yard pick-six, and found itself down 28-0 after 15 minutes in front of a stunned crowd at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium and Ruggles Field.
Despite trailing by four touchdowns, Henderson never panicked and began to chip away at the deficit in the second quarter. Darius Austin got the Reddies on the board with a 1-yard score to make it 28-7 and the HSU defense began to stiffen by stalling three-straight SAU drives.
Still down 28-7, the Reddies’ fortunes turned in the last five minutes of the half. HSU quickly got momentum on its side thanks to a 1-play drive on a 53-yard strike to Xavier Malone and trimmed the lead down to 28-14 with 4:30 to go until the break.
The huge swing in mojo continued moments later when the Muleriders went for a 4th-and-2 at their own 30-yard line and failed to convert. Henderson took advantage in just two plays, as Austin rumbled in from 30 yards out to make it 28-21 with under two minutes left in the half.
The Reddies were not done, however. An interception by HSU’s Cameron Thomas on the second play of the next drive for SAU once again gave the ball back to Henderson, and the offense capitalized, as Adam Morse hit Mike Benning for a 19-yard strike to tie the game at 28-28.
With the crowd and home sideline already in a frenzy, Temo Martinez pooched the ensuing kickoff into no-man’s-land for Southern Arkansas. A fortuitous bounce went towards the kicking team and the Reddies came up with the ball to set off pandemonium in the home stands with 40 seconds left in the quarter.
Once again, Morse and the Reddie offense cashed in the gift by SAU, as L’liott Curry was on the receiving end of a go-ahead 26-yard fade which gave Henderson an incredible 35-point quarter and a lead at halftime.
In total, HSU scored 28 points on just nine plays in the final five minutes of the first half. Three of the Reddies’ touchdown drives in the quarter took two plays or less.
After a monumental collapse, Southern Arkansas refused to go away quietly to begin the second half and marched down the field to tie the game at 35-35. Henderson, after scoring in rapid succession to seize the lead, came up with a 13-play, 73-yard scoring drive in response to regain a 42-35 advantage. Duce Sproles capped off the drive with a three-yard touchdown for HSU, who took 6:09 off the clock on the possession.
The Muleriders again rallied to answer and used 12 plays to drive down to the Henderson 4-yard line in the waning moments of the third quarter. In perhaps the biggest play in a game full of them, Reddies’ linebacker Jake Chatman snuffed out the SAU possession on its 13th play, as he picked off a pass at the goal line on third down and weaved his way 100 yards for an HSU touchdown. Chatman’s incredible effort tied an unbreakable school-record for longest interception return and gave Henderson a 49-35 lead after three quarters.
SAU scored quickly to open the fourth and cut the Reddies’ lead down to 49-41 with 13:16 to go. The Muleriders had an opportunity to tie the game at one point down the stretch, but after forcing a three-and-out by HSU, proceeded to stall at midfield and were forced to punt.
After getting the ball back on its own 13-yard line, Henderson went to work. The Reddies put together a 10-play, 87-yard touchdown drive that took 5:02 off the clock and gave them a commanding 56-41 lead with just over three minutes remaining. Morse completed four-straight passes on the drive, while Austin accounted for the last 34 yards, which included a 13-yard score.
Southern Arkansas made things interesting in the final seconds and scored a late touchdown and two-point conversion to force an onside kick, but Curry came up with the last-ditch effort from SAU to seal one of the most remarkable wins in program history for Henderson State.
Morse threw for 291 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions for HSU. Austin finished with 85 yards on just seven carries and found the end zone three times. Curry led Henderson in receiving with eight catches for 99 yards and a touchdown. Thomas, a freshman defensive back, had two big interceptions for the Reddies in the second quarter and led the team with nine tackles.
Henderson was out-gained 577-499 in the win, but was the picture of balance offensively, running 38 plays both rushing and passing. The Reddies ran for over 200 yards as a team for the fourth-straight game to open the season. HSU was also perfect in the red zone once again and is now an incredible 23-for-23 on the year inside the 20-yard line with 20 touchdowns — a mark that leads the nation.
The Reddies will play for sole possession of first place in the GAC next Saturday when they face off with unbeaten Southeastern Oklahoma State at 2 p.m. in Durant, Oklahoma.–