The Harding football team overcame two lost fumbles in a rainy first half to defeat Northwestern Oklahoma State University (NWOSU) 24-7 on Saturday, Nov. 5. The Bisons improved to 10-0 this season with the victory and clinched their first ever Great American Conference championship.
After jumping out to a 10-0 lead, a Harding muffed punt gave NWOSU a short field just before halftime. Head coach Ronnie Huckeba, who is coaching his final season for the Bisons, said he was proud of his team’s composure after NWOSU capitalized and cut the lead to 10-7 after the first half.
“(The first half) was a challenge for both offenses,” Huckeba said. “They couldn’t hold on to the ball, and we were having trouble too. The game was 10-7 at halftime, but I didn’t feel like it was near that close. I knew that when we came out in the second half, we’d have a chance to distance ourselves and that first drive, that’s exactly what we did.”
Back-to-back rushing touchdowns by junior running back Zach Shelley and senior running back Dwayne Carter extended the Bisons’ lead to 24-7 in the third quarter and the nation’s top scoring defense held NWOSU’s conference-leading passing offense scoreless in the second half to seal the victory.
“Nothing to me was surprising about the way (the defense) played,” Huckeba said. “They played very aggressively, I think (they) broke off the ball very well today. That’s a very good quarterback over there, he’s got great touch on the ball, and we kept him off balance because we were able to get pressure on him.”
According to senior running back Michael Latu, who rushed 19 times for 80 yards and a touchdown in the win, the team’s ability to stay focused each week has been a catalyst for its success. Latu said that even after a title-clinching victory on Saturday, the Bisons will start a new week and focus on their regular season finale against Arkansas Tech University.
“We normally try to take the night to celebrate and come Sunday we try to refocus,” Latu said. “We will try to forget everything from the past because we’re 0-0 every week.”
Huckeba agreed and said that one of this team’s biggest accomplishments is its ability to play each week as if it’s a new season.
“I think we’ve played every week like it was a season and taken each game for what it was, and that’s the way you should play anyway,” Huckeba said. “The games that you get to play are few and far between, and everybody’s career normally ends after college football, so the idea is to enjoy every one of them. I’m so proud of these guys because they’ve done that — they’ve enjoyed every game.”
The Bisons will host Arkansas Tech University for Senior Day on Saturday, Nov. 12 at First Security Stadium. A win would secure Harding’s first ever undefeated regular season in football. Regardless of the game’s outcome, the Bisons will still be GAC Champions, an achievement Huckeba and Latu are both very proud of.
“Words can’t describe it,” Latu said. “I’ve never been a part of a championship team so it feels great. It’s a blessing, especially with all these guys.”
“It’s surreal,” Huckeba added. “It’s something that we’ve dreamed of, and you know, sometimes dreams do come true.”