SEARCY - Valdosta State scored 20 points in the second quarter to erase an early deficit and defeat Harding 23-17 on Saturday in Gulf South Conference action at First Security Stadium.
Harding (4-4, 2-3) entered the game with wins in its last two games but could not overcome 15 penalties for 184 yards. The Bisons had five penalties for 89 yards in the second quarter alone, as Valdosta State (4-3, 4-2) came from 10-0 down to take the lead for good.
Bison senior Zac Ross made his second career start at quarterback and rushed 24 times for a career-high 151 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown run to open the scoring with 8:51 left in the first quarter. Ross' 151 yards were the most by a Harding player this season and the most ever in a game by a Bison quarterback.
A 26-yard Micah Canterbury field goal with 10 seconds remaining in the first quarter gave Harding a 10-0 lead.
Valdosta State quarterback Kellen Lewis controlled the game in the second quarter, passing for two touchdowns and rushing for a third. Freshman Gerald Ford caught the first touchdown pass on a 19-yard reception. The snap on the extra point was wild and Harding led 10-6. Lewis scored then scored from a yard out and hit senior R.J. Bastone on a 36-yard strike to give the Blazers a 20-10 halftime lead.
Harding cut the advantage to 20-17 with 4:31 left in the third, as sophomore Jeremy Holt caught a screen pass from Ross and went 68 yards for a touchdown. Ross completed 12-of-22 passes for 155 yards and one score.
Valdosta State then extended the lead to 23-17 on a Justin Kraemer 41-yard field goal with 11:04 left in the game.
Harding had to punt on its first two possessions following the field goal, but the Bison defense forced Valdosta State to punt with 1:49 remaining. The Bisons muffed the punt, and the Blazers recovered at the Harding 17 and ran out the clock.
The Harding defense had a season-high six sacks in the game, led by three from junior defensive end Jermaine Blanchard. The sacks and a strong Bison rush defense limited the Blazers to only 17 rushing yards on 29 carries. It was the second fewest rushing yards by a Harding opponent in a GSC game. Harding limited West Georgia to -27 yards in 2002.
Lewis completed 28-of-52 passes for 329 yards and did not throw an interception.
Harding, which forced six turnovers in last week's victory over Ouachita Baptist, forced only one Valdosta State turnover.
The Bisons will play their final road game of the season next Saturday at Arkansas-Monticello. Kickoff at Convoy Leslie "Cotton Bowl" Stadium in Monticello is at 3 p.m.