In a matchup of differing styles, the Harding Bisons (5-2) will look to record only its second home win of the season when they take on the Northwestern Oklahoma State University (NWOSU) Rangers (3-4) tomorrow at 2 p.m. The contest will also be the Bisons’ Homecoming game.
Harding is known for its triple-option style offense, which focuses on grinding down opponents with a consistent, downhill running game. This style has helped Harding gain the second most rushing yards in NCAA Division II (330.7 yards per game).
Sophomore running backs Tristan Tucker and Cole Chancey have led the Bisons on the ground thus far. Each average more than 60 rushing yards per game; however, the Bisons have spread the team’s carries throughout the season. Six Bisons have carried the ball more than 30 times this season.
Harding’s bruising style will be matched this weekend by the Rangers’ spread offense, which aims to open up the field and take advantage of the team’s speed.
“They’ve got a quarterback that’s really athletic and a lot of team speed,” Harding Head Football Coach Paul Simmons said. “We are going to a try our best to get after them and make it a long day for them.”
From that spread set, the Rangers execute a far more balanced offense than the Bisons. Last week against Arkansas Tech University, they ran the ball 40 times and attempted 41 passes on their 81 plays on offense.
As a result, NWOSU enters the game ranked fourth in the GAC in rushing yards (165.1 yards per game) and eighth in passing yards (174.6 yards per game). The Rangers switched quarterbacks two weeks ago, and the team’s new signal caller, junior Cesar De Leon, has led them to two straight wins over East Central University and Arkansas Tech University.
This year, the Bisons are only 1-2 at home with both home losses coming against nationally ranked opponents. Their only win comes against Oklahoma Baptist University, who is currently only one win ahead of last place in the Great American Conference (GAC). Simmons said he thinks this week’s atmosphere will help lift the team to victory.
“It’s awesome having that huge crowd there,” Simmons said. “The energy and passion that is shown … it means a lot to our guys.”
NWOSU has never won a game in Searcy.
Harding enters the game as clear favorites. The Bisons currently sit in first place in the GAC in scoring offense (37.4 points per game) and second in scoring defense (12.9 points per game). The Rangers are ranked eighth in both categories.
Despite the clear difference in scoring between the two teams, the Rangers carry momentum into this week’s matchup. NWOSU has won two straight games, and in their win against Arkansas Tech, the Rangers held the Wonder Boys scoreless, winning 21-0. The Rangers also came close to beating Ouachita Baptist University, who beat Harding two weeks ago. They lost 21-29 in week one.
For the Rangers to have a chance in Saturday’s game, they will have to win the turnover battle. Harding has done a good job taking care of the ball this season, turning it over only nine times, putting them second in the GAC.
NWOSU, however, will look to continue its ballhawking play from a week ago. The Rangers forced five turnovers in that game.
Editor’s prediction: Harding 56 – NWOSU 17