By COURTLIN HAYGARTH | HSU Sports Network
SEARCY — One week after turnovers plagued Henderson State, the Reddie defense flipped the script, turning over the No. 12 Harding Bisons three times as HSU earned its biggest win of the season, 15-14.
Coming into this game, HU led the GAC in scoring offense with 35.2 points per game and second in the league in rushing offense with 322.5 rushing yards per game. Saturday, HSU held Harding to a season-low 14 points and its second lowest rushing output with 236 yards on the ground.
Kicker Tristan Heaton scored nine of the Reddies’ 15 points on the day, including a 46-yard field goal that wound up being the game-winner with six minutes remaining in regulation. Heaton also punted five times for an average of 39.6 yards per boot, including a long of 50 as the HSU’s special teams unit held the nation’s No. 4 returner in check the entire game.
Gary Lewis and Peyton Usher-Pearson combined for a team-high nine tackles, along with half a tackle for loss for each as a part six tackles for loss as an entire unit. Newcomer Catrell Wallace played his best game as a Reddie, coming up with two fumble recoveries and a tackle for loss.
The Reddie defense got things rolling for the visitors, opening play with a forced three-and-out from the No. 12 team in the nation. Edwards and the offense proceeded to cmme out fast on HSU’s first offensive possession, driving the ball all the way down to Harding’s 12 yard line before head coach Scott Maxfield opted to take the three points for the early lead.
The Bisons next series yielded more yards, but a similar outcome as Harding’s Cole Keylon delivered the game’s first turnover seconds after the game’s potential first touchdown. A negated-score due to an ineligible man downfield was followed up with Darrick Rose Jr. making a diving catch in the endzone to keep HU scoreless.
Another long drive by HSU left Reddie fans wanting more, however, as once again kicker Tristan Heaton trotted out there to extend the lead to 6-0 as Harding’s defense stood firm to keep the score at a one-possession difference.
The Reddie defense continued to show up, this time in the form of a fumble recovery as Catrell Wallace batted down a pitch to the running back, returning it down to HU’s 13 yard line as HSU threatened to open the lead once again. This time, the break went the Bisons way as Heaton missed his first field goal to keep the advantage at six.
Harding used that break to get their offense going. After back-to-back punts from each offense, the Bisons used a 7-play, 94 yard drive to see its first lead of the game heading to the locker room 7-6. With the momentum all on the Harding sideline, HSU had 30 minutes to complete the comeback and pull off the upset.
The second half started eerily similar to how the first half ended. After Henderson was forced to punt on its first possession, Harding strung together a time-consuming 14-play, 49-yard drive that resulted in seven to put HU ahead 14-6 with four minutes remaining in the third.
Another punt from a Henderson offense that looked unable to move the ball was given new life as Harding put the ball on the turf on its first play of the proceeding drive as Wallace came up with his second fumble recovery of the game.
With the Reddies deep in Bison territory as the third period drew to an end, a third-down, back shoulder laser to Matt Childers 12 seconds into the final frame brought HSU within two, 14-12. An unsuccessful two-point try kept it as such as HSU still needed one more stop.
Senior Deldric Shields came up with the stop of his collegiate career as Harding opted to go for it on Henderson’s 28. On a fourth-and-twelve reverse call, Shields was the only defender to stand in the way of the Bison ball carrier and paydirt as the Pittsburg, Texas native made the open field tackle to give the ball back to the offense with nine minutes remaining.
The Reddie offense made their way into Harding territory before they stalled out at the Bison 24-yard line. A false start turned a 41-yard attempt into a 46-yard try. Heaton sent the ball clear through the uprights on what was his second longest attempt of the season to give HSU the final lead with just over six minutes left in play.
After Harding and Henderson traded off punts, Bison return specialist Kendale Allen muffed the punt as HSU’s Jody Easter recovered the third fumble of the contest, sending off the celebration as the Reddies upset No. 12 Harding on their home field, 15-14.
Henderson St. (5-2) will return to Arkadelphia for the first time since early October when they host Arkansas Tech for Homecoming Weekend. Kickoff from inside Carpenter-Haygood Stadium at GeoSurfaces Field is set for 2 p.m.