In game of momentum swings, Harding Academy took advantage of the last one to pull out a 29-27 non-conference victory over Heber Springs at First Security Stadium.
Ben Sloan’s 25-yard field goal with 2:01 left in the game proved to be the difference for the Wildcats. The field goal came three plays after Parker Golden blocked an Adam Martin punt at the 29 and Brooks Tipton recovered it at the 19 for Harding Academy.
The Panthers managed to get a first down on the ensuing drive but Martin’s fourth-day pass attempt was incomplete with 47 seconds left and Harding Academy killed the clock to improve to 2-1 on the season.
Heber Springs fell to 0-3 for the second time in the past three seasons. The last time the Panthers started 0-3 they earned the No. 1 seed out of the 2-4A conference in 2016.
Heber Springs will kick-off conference play Friday night at Lonoke (1-2).
The loss also overshadowed another impressive performance by running back Blaze Nelson. Nelson carried the ball 29 times for 190 yards and two touchdowns. The senior also caught three passes for 48 yards to finish with 238 yards of total offense. Nelson has rushed for 558 yards on 75 carries with seven touchdowns in three games this season for Heber Springs.
Harding Academy quarterback Davis Morgan was the offensive catalyst for the Wildcats. He passed for 217 yards and two scores and rushed for 130 times and two more touchdowns.
QUICK START FOR WILDCATS
The Panthers won the toss and took the ball, but Harding forced the Panthers to a three-and-out on Heber Springs’ first possession. It didn’t take long for the Wildcats to score on their first drive. Four straight running plays covered 70 yards in 1:18 to give Harding Academy at 7-0 lead with 9:45 in the first quarter. Morgan carried on the last two for 52 yards, the latter a 16-yard run for the score.
Heber Springs followed with a nice 11-play, 51-yard drive that pushed the ball to the Wildcat 13. But on fourth-and-2, Harding Academy’s Braden Oliver stopped Nelson a yard short of the first-down marker. Nelson carried the ball nine times on the drive for 38 yards.
Harding Academy took the ball from just outside the 11 and appeared to be marching downfield for another score when junior Jackson Harrod stepped in front of Morgan pass attempt at the one-inch line as the first quarter ended.
BIG PLAY MOMENTUM
On the first play of the second quarter, Martin connected with Tri Johnson on a long strike. After avoiding a tackle near the Wildcat 40, Johnson broke free and outran three Harding Academy defenders to complete the 99-yard plus scoring play. Julian Cameron added the PAT to tie the game at 7-7 with 11:44 left before the half.
The Wildcats moved the ball from their own 20 to the Panther 44 before a chop-block penalty stalled out the Harding Academy drive at the 8:08 mark.
Heber Springs took over on the Panther 34. After a first-down run of eight yards by Martin, two plays later, Nelson took the handoff at the Wildcat 49, ran into a group of Harding Academy defenders, spun free and found nothing in front of him except the end zone to give Heber Springs its first lead of the night with 5:59 left in the second quarter.
In the season opener at Clinton, the Yellowjackets successfully recovered an onside kick attempt to start the second half. Clinton would later score and turn the game in their favor. Flash forward two weeks and Harding Academy did the same thing to take a 20-14 lead in the halftime locker room.
After the two teams traded possessions, the Wildcats took over on their own 19 with 3:11 left in the half. After a pair of first down runs and two incompletions, Harding Academy was facing a third-and-10 on its own 48. Morgan found Stone Sheffield open for a short completion and he did the rest racing 52 yards to tie things up at 14-all with 2:00 minutes to play on the quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Wildcats attempted an on-sides kick, the ball bounced off a Panther where a waiting Tipton landed on the football for Harding Academy.
Morgan connected with Caleb Campbell on a 47-yard pass completion on the next play to put the ball on the Panther 5. From there, Morgan did the rest with his feet at 1:57 mark. The PAT kick failed and Harding Academy led 20-14. The Panthers drove to the Wildcat 43 before turning the ball over on downs.
Harding Academy threatened again but sophomore Matthew Cook intercepted the Morgan pass attempt to leave the score 20-14 at the half.
With Morgan sick on the sidelines on the Wildcats first possession of the second half, the Heber Springs defense held Harding Academy to a three-and-out.
The Panthers took over on their own 29 after the Wildcat punt. On a third-and-12, Martin found senior Rocky Finney for a 13-yard completion. After an incompletion, Nelson rushed for 8, 17 and 6 yards to move the ball to the Wildcat 29. Martin rambled for 10 and another first down before the Wildcats were able to stop Nelson on consecutive carries. On third-and-7, Martin raced free to score an apparent 16-yard touchdown but holding penalty negated the score. After offsetting penalties again on third down, Martin found Finney for the 28-yard scoring strike. Cameron’s PAT made 21-20 in favor of Heber Springs with 4:51 left in the third.
The Wildcats responded taking over on their own 20 and moving downfield on short runs by Morgan and Sheffield to reach the Panther 32. From there the flags came out in favor of the Wildcats. On second down, Heber Springs was guilty of an obvious pass interference call in the end zone that saved a touchdown. On the next play at the Panther 17, pass interference was again called against Heber Springs in the end zone. This time it appeared the Finney had timed the play perfectly but a flag was thrown. After a pair of runs from the 8 by Morgan, Connor McGaha scored on a 1-yard touchdown reception from Morgan. The two-point pass attempt failed as the Wildcats led 26-21 with 10:46 left in the contest.
NELSON TAKES OVER
After taking possession at the Panther 37 on the ensuing kickoff, four consecutive runs by Nelson pushed the ball to the Wildcat 23. From there, Martin kept the ball for five yards before Nelson finished off the drive with an 18-yard run with 8:38 to play. The two-point run failed.
Morgan found Jimmy Citty for a 15-yard completion on the Wildcats first play of the ensuing drive, but from there the Panther defense stiffened. On second-and-5 from the 50, Dalton Hall stopped Morgan for no gain and on third down, Fate Berry threw Citty for a two-yard loss on an end-around attempt forcing the Wildcats to punt.
Heber Springs took over from its own 30 with 6:22 to play. After runs by Nelson and Martin, Tipton sacked Martin for a six-yard loss on third-and-5, forcing the punt that would be blocked by Golden.
Tanner Tillman and Fate Berry each had 10 total tackles to lead the Panthers on defense. Landon Johnson had 9 and Blaze Nelson finished with 8.
BY THE NUMBERS
First downs: Heber Springs 15, Harding Academy 18
Rushing Att-Yards-Avg: Heber Springs 36-209-5.8, Harding Academy 41-199-4.9
Passing Comp-Att-Yards-Int: Heber Springs 10-22-220-0, Harding Academy 12-21-217-2
Total Offense: Heber Springs 416, Harding Academy 414
Sacks-Yards: Heber Springs 0-0, Harding Academy 2-15
Penalties-Yards: Heber Springs 6-50, Harding Academy 2-20
Fumbles-Lost: Heber Springs 1-1, Harding Academy 1-0.
Punts-Avg: Heber Springs 3-17.3, Harding Academy 3-24.7
Rushing: Heber Springs – Blaze Nelson 29-120, Adam Martin 6-15, Julio Rubio 1-4. Harding Academy – Davis Morgan 20-130, Stone Sheffield 15-71, Jimmy Citty 4-7, Team 2-(-9).
Passing: Heber Springs – Adam Martin 10-22-220-0. Harding Academy – Davis Morgan 12-21-217-2.
Receiving: Heber Springs – Rocky Finney 6-73-1, Blaze Nelson 3-48, Tri Johnson 1-99-1. Harding Academy – Connor McGaha 6-90-1, Caleb Campbell 2-45, Jimmy Citty 2-24, Stone Sheffield 1-52-1, Carter Neal 1-6.
Total Offense: Heber Springs – Blaze Nelson 238, Adam Martin 235, Tri Johnson 99, Rocky Finney 73, Julio Rubio 4. Harding Academy – Davis Morgan 347, Stone Sheffield 123, Connor McGaha 90, Caleb Campbell 45, Jimmy Citty 31, Carter Neal 6.