TEXARKANA, Ark. – Harding rolled up 504 yards of total offense and had its best defensive effort of the season in winning the inaugural Live United Texarkana Bowl 44-3 over Texas A&M-Commerce on Friday at Razorback Stadium. The victory was the first for a Great American Conference team in the postseason.
It was Harding’s first postseason victory since winning the 1972 Cowboy Bowl 30-27 over Langston on a 41-yard field goal by Tom Ed Gooden with only seven seconds left. Friday’s game was never that close.
Harding (9-2) rushed for 297 yards and game MVP Keenan Kellett completed 6-of-9 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Donatella Luckett had five receptions for a career-high 149 yards and a 57-yard touchdown. Texas A&M-Commerce (7-5) managed only 100 yards of total offense.
Junior All-America fullback Romo Westbrook scored both of Harding’s touchdowns in the first half. His first was a 5-yard score, and he followed that with a 57-yard burst up the middle in the second quarter that gave the Bisons a 14-3 lead at halftime.
Harding outscored Texas A&M-Commerce 30-0 in the second half. Luckett opened the scoring by taking a swing pass from Kellett 57 yards down the sideline, blowing past three Texas A&M-Commerce defenders. John Gay kicked a 29-yard field goal, and senior Alex Finley hauled in a 58-yard touchdown with a one-handed grab down the middle of the field that gave the Bisons a 30-3 lead with 3:00 left in the third quarter.
Junior Alepeti Magalei scored on a 10-yard run, and senior Ty Finley’s 5-yard touchdown with 1:39 left in the game concluded Harding’s scoring.
Westbrook gained 98 rushing yards on 17 carries and finished the season with 1,123 rushing yards. It was the highest total of any Great American Conference running back and the fourth-highest total ever by a Bison.
Harding’s defense completely shut Texas A&M-Commerce’s passing attack that entered the game ranked 10th in Division II. Lion quarterbacks Harrison Stewart and Deric Davis combined to complete only 7-of-37 passes for 53 yards, and the Bisons held the Lions to only 47 rushing yards on 24 carries. Harding’s 100 yards allowed was the ninth-best performance in program history and the best of the 2013 season.
Senior Ashtun Williams led the Harding defense with eight tackles. He also forced a fumble and broke up two passes. The Bisons had eight tackles for loss, including four sacks, which gave Harding 40 sacks in a season for only the fourth time.
Durant native Cordell Zalenski recorded one solo tackle for the Bison, as well as one sack for a loss of nine yards against the Commerce quarterback.
With the victory, Harding posted back-to-back nine-win seasons and improved to 297-297-18 all-time. It is the first time that the Bison program has had a .500 overall record since the second game of the 1925 season.