From Harding University
Harding scored 24 unanswered points in the second half and completely shut down
East Central's offense en route to a 31-14 victory over the Tigers on Family
Weekend at First Security Stadium.
Harding improved to 4-0 for the first time since 2002 and remained undefeated at 2-0 in Great American Conference play. East Central dropped to 2-3 overall and 1-2 in conference action and lost for the sixth straight time to Harding in Searcy.
Harding entered the game ranked first in Division II in rushing offense and piled up 381 rushing yards against East Central. Senior quarterback Kelvin Martin carried 24 times for 117 yards and a career-high three touchdowns. It was his third career 100-yard rushing game. Sophomore Romo Westbrook had 18 carries for 92 yards, and junior Ty Finley carried five times for a career-high 84 yards.
Harding had 454 total yards and 28 first downs, 23 of them on the ground.
Defensively, Harding held East Central to only 84 yards of total offense. The Tigers rushed 31 times for just 64 yards and completed four passes for 20 yards. Harding, who had the top pass defense in Division II entering the game, held East Central to only six first downs and did not allow a passing first down until late in the fourth quarter.
The 84 yards allowed by Harding's defense was the fewest given up by the Bisons in a conference game since surrendering just 52 yards to Henderson State in an Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference matchup in 1986. It was the sixth-best defensive performance in program history.
Trailing 14-7 at halftime, Harding cut the East Central lead to one point in the third quarter with a pair of John Gay field goals, the first from 33 yards and the second from 20 yards. The first field goal came on Harding's first possession of the second half, a drive that continued after defensive end Ty Powell rushed for a first down on a fake punt.
In the third quarter, Harding had almost 11 minutes of possession, rushed for 87 yards and completed 4-of-5 passes for 72 yards. East Central ran only six offensive plays in the third quarter for -14 yards.
Harding completed its comeback with two touchdowns from Martin and another 33-yard field goal from Gay.
Martin had a five-yard touchdown with 14:38 left in the game to give Harding its first lead. After a personal foul penalty that resulted in an ejection of East Central defensive end Jason Catchings, Harding went for two with Martin diving in to give the Bisons a 21-14 lead.
Gay's field goal on the next possession made it 24-14. Powell then forced and recovered a fumble on a sack of East Central quarterback Spencer Bond at the Tiger 18-yard line, and three plays later, Martin scored on a 15-yard run with 6:42 left.
East Central had only 28 yards of offense in the fourth quarter.
East Central's two touchdowns came in first half. The first was on a 35-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Qumain Black on the last play of the first quarter. Following Martin's first 5-yard touchdown run at the 8:51 mark of the second quarter, East Central's Brad Davis returned the ensuing kickoff 75 yards to the Harding 20. Bond scored six plays later on a one-yard run.
Powell had 3.5 tackles for loss, including 2.5 sacks, to go along with the forced fumble and fumble recovery. Harding had a season-high 12 tackles for loss and had four sacks for the third time this season. Senior Daniel Riley and redshirt freshman Trendall Stevenson tied for the team lead with five tackles.
Harding will play its only neutral site game of the season next week against Southern Arkansas. The game has been dubbed the "Boomtown Classic" and will be played at Memorial Field in El Dorado, Ark., with a 1:30 p.m. kickoff. Both teams enter the game undefeated at 4-0.