Written by Eli Dean // Photo by Morgan Pickering
The Harding football team started the season strong and continues to rise in the Division II rankings. After a 27-16 victory over 20th-ranked Henderson State University (HSU) this past weekend, the Bisons came home ranked 10th in DII. The Bisons now have the sixth-highest-scoring offense. This is the first year since 2016, the best season in program history, that Harding has opened to a 4-0 start.
Head coach Paul Simmons said he is impressed with the start his team has had so far.
“We’ve got a long way to go before we play our best game, but certainly we’re off to a great start,” Simmons said. “It’s a group that has really high expectations. We’ve just got to fight for every inch, stay together and love each other and see what happens.”
Junior defensive lineman Gage Price said he is encouraged by the start but wants to keep himself and his team focused on the games ahead.
“We take things one week at a time,” Price said. “To go 11-0, you must go 1-0. That’s how we can keep it going. Just by finding ways to continue to get better and not let complacency kick in.”
Given HSU’s strong defense against the run this season, the game was going to be a challenge, but Simmons said the uniqueness of how the offense was run helped create more opportunities for success.
“It was certainly a way more difficult game than what we’ve been in, but that’s part of what makes the offense so good,” Simmons said. “It’s extremely different from what anyone else does, and you basically have to change the way your team plays defense if you’re going to have a chance, so the uniqueness is part of what makes it great for us.”
Another aspect of the win came from the defense. The team held HSU to its lowest offensive showing of the season, including making a stop on the one-yard line in the second quarter, which kept the Bison deficit at 3-0.
Senior linebacker Zach Strickland said he hopes the defense will continue to get stronger as the season progresses.
“As a defense, we came into the season with the goal of getting back to our roots and being the number one rush defense in the nation,” Strickland said. “We’ve done a pretty good job of that as a defense so far, but I would love for that goal to come to fruition and continue to move up in the nation.”
Harding’s next game will be a home game against Great American Conference opponent Southwest Oklahoma State University, who have a 0-4 record.
Strickland said he hopes the pattern of success continues for both the team and for himself on defense for the rest of the season.
“We need to continue to create turnovers as a defense, and as an offense continue to manage the clock and take care of the football,” Strickland said. “If we do that as a team, we are going to have a ton of fun this season.”