Harding defense keys victory in football season finale

From Harding University

Harding scored all its points in the first half and relied on its defense the rest of the way to defeat Southeastern Oklahoma State 16-9 on Saturday in the final game of the season for both teams at First Security Stadium.

Harding (4-7, 3-3) scored two first quarter touchdowns to set a new school record with 52 for the season. Southeastern Oklahoma (2-8, 1-6) lost its eighth straight overall and its fifth straight against Harding in Searcy dating to 1991.

The Bisons scored on their first possession of the game, as junior quarterback Kelvin Martin found a wide-open Jeremy Holt over the middle on a 47-yard touchdown pass. One of the key plays on the drive was a fake punt on 4th-and-5 at the HU 44. Eddy Carmona, the punter completed a 9-yard pass to Harding's deep snapper Darby Palmer for a first down. Southeastern Oklahoma's Josh Morrison blocked Carmona's extra point attempt and the Bisons led 6-0.

Harding extended its lead to 13-0 with 2:29 left in the first. The Bisons drove 95 yards on 12 plays with Martin scoring his ninth touchdown of the season on a 1-yard sneak.

Carmona's 42-yard field goal into the wind with 7:09 left in the second quarter put the Bisons ahead 16-0.

Southeastern Oklahoma used a 48-yard kickoff return by Keelen Green to set up its only touchdown of the game. Savage Storm freshman CJ Kirk, who rushed for 120 yards on 28 carries, scored on a 17-yard run with 3:14 left before halftime. Harding defensive end Josh Aldridge stopped Don Brown on his attempt at a two-point conversion, and the Bisons led 16-6 going into halftime.

The Savage Storm had five possessions in the second half. Harding defense forced punts on the first two, and kicker Chris Peoples missed a 37-yard field goal, and then scored Southeastern Oklahoma's only points of the second half on a 26-yard field goal with 6:07 left in the game.

The Savage Storm then recovered an on-side kick on the ensuing kickoff and needed a touchdown to tie the game. On the third play of the drive, SOSU quarterback Logan Turner completed an 11-yard pass to Ryan Shelley, but Harding senior linebacker Brian Maupin forced a fumble recovered by Harding's James Feher.

Harding used a 10-play drive that consisted almost exclusively of runs by fullback Kale Gelles to run out the last 4:52. On his final carry of the season, Gelles rushed for nine yards and eclipsed the 1,000-yard barrier for the second straight season. He is only the third Harding player with multiple 1,000 yard rushing seasons in his career. The others were Alan "Snake" Dixon and Chris Pierson.

Harding, Division II's top-ranked rushing team, rushed for 259 yards on 55 carries and fell just 30 yards short of rushing for 4,000 yards in a season. The Bisons averaged 360.9 rushing yards per game, the most by any team in Division II since Saginaw Valley State averaged 385.5 in 1998.

The Bison defense limited the Savage Storm to just 272 total yards, Harding's best defensive effort in the last eight games. Junior linebacker Aaron Gillaspie led the Bison defense with 12 tackles. Harding's defense had six tackles for loss, including three sacks, forced three fumbles, intercepted one pass and broke up four others.

Prior to the game, Harding honored its 13 seniors playing their final game as Bisons.