SALEM 6, HARDING ACADEMY 47
The Harding Academy Wildcats are ranked number two in Class 3A football for a good reason.
Despite the fact that the Wildcats have only 22 players on their roster, they are a strong and fast 22, and Harding Academy had yet to be touched in its first five games of the 2006 season, winning most games by an easy margin.
The one thing the Wildcats are well versed in is how to score points in big bunches out of their no-huddle, spread attack on offense. When it comes to advancing the scoreboard, Harding Academy does not need any outside help.
However, that's just what the Salem Greyhounds gave them -- help, and plenty of it -- Oct. 13 as the two teams squared off in 2-3A play at Greyhound Stadium.
Salem turned the ball over seven times on the night, stoking the already brightly-burning fire the Wildcats brought with them from Searcy, as Harding Academy improved to 6-0 overall, 3-0 in conference play, with a 47-6 win over the Greyhounds.
It's really hard to imagine the night getting off to any worse start than it did for the Greyhounds (3-4, 1-3).
Salem fumbled its first snap of the game from scrimmage, with the Wildcats recovering the ball deep in Hound territory, at the 30-yard line.
Five plays later, Harding Academy had scored the first of its 41 first-half points on a 2-yard TD run at the 10:27 point of the first quarter. The PAT gave the Wildcats a 7-0 lead less than two minutes inside the opening kick.
Salem drove to the Wildcat 36-yard line on its next series, but that's where the Harding Academy defense toughened, forcing the Greyhounds to punt on a fourth-and-25. As it turned out on this night, punting the football wasn't such a bad option. At least the Wildcats had to work for their points that way.
Harding Academy added to its lead with a 15-yard touchdown run from J.T. Fisher, wrapping up a quick five-play drive for the Wildcats with six minutes left in the first quarter.
Trailing 14-0, the last thing Salem wanted to do was give Harding Academy another shot at a quick score.
But that's just what the Hounds did.
A Greyhound fumble just inside Salem's side of the field was snagged by the Wildcats, and six snaps later Matt Lincoln ran 15 yards for Harding Academy's third TD in the first quarter. The extra point pushed the Wildcats on top 21-0 with 2:56 remaining in the first.
The Greyhounds did get on Harding Academy's side of the field, down to the 38, thanks in part to a 29-yard play-action pass from quarterback Jeff Nelson to Derek Estes. Salem's drive fizzled out at this point and Salem punted the ball to the Wildcats.
Salem knows a thing or two about defense and showed it can play takeaway just like Harding Academy.
On the Wildcats' first series of the second quarter, Lance Powell tipped a pass from Harding Academy quarterback Luke Tribble and Dustin Vaughn snatched the batted football out of the air.
The Hounds couldn't take advantage of this gift and three plays later had to punt once again from their side of the field. The Wildcats blocked the punt and recovered the ball at the Salem 25-yard line.
On the next snap from scrimmage, Tribble hit Chris Pack with a 25-yard TD pass at the 8:35 mark. The PAT was blocked, but Harding Academy had stretched its lead to 27-0.
The Hounds just couldn't shake their bad case of fumblitis, and it turned terminal as time wound down in the first half.
Salem fumbled at its own 36 and Harding Academy scooped up the football, once again giving the Wildcats a short field for their offense to work with.
Four plays later, Tribble tossed a 2-yard touchdown pass to keep the Wildcats rolling. The PAT made the score Harding Academy 34, Salem 0 with 6:47 left till intermission.
But it got worse.
The Greyhounds bobbled the ensuing kickoff and the Wildcats fell on the ball deep in Salem territory.
This miscue led to a Wildcat 5-yard TD run that came just one minute after Harding Academy's previous touchdown.
Down 41-0 at the break, the Greyhounds sure didn't need to add any more fuel to Harding Academy's fire in the second half, and getting the ball to start the third was a sure step in the right direction.
Only on the first snap of the second half, Salem turned the ball right back over to the Wildcats.
Harding Academy looked certain to cross the goal line once again, staked with a first-and-goal from the Greyhound 3-yard line.
But the Salem defense stood tall and didn't allow the Wildcats to score on three straight fullback dives, giving the ball back to the Hounds in the shadows of their own goal posts.
Harding Academy would score moments later as Nelson was picked off by Wildcat defensive back Jimmie Harper. Harper took the ball into the end zone at the 6:40 mark of the third to boost the Wildcats' margin to 47-0.
Salem avoided its third shutout of the season with a lengthy drive that started at its own 31.
Riding a big dose of Zach Harber and Blake Hurst on the ground, Salem moved the ball deep onto Harding Academy's side of the field as time ran out in the third.
Harber then opened the final frame with a 5-yard TD run at the 11:55 mark of the fourth to get the Hounds on the board. The PAT was no good, setting the final score at 47-6, Harding Academy.
Salem hosts Cave City for homecoming Oct. 20 at Greyhound Stadium.