November 12th, 2023 9:00am
Rivalry week is in the books and with it, the 2023 GAC regular season. We’ll have a season recap coming in the weeks ahead, but for now, we’ll stick with recapping this last week of the year, as well as analyzing the 2023 playoffs.
First up, it’s playoff time. The Harding Bisons are the No. 1 seed in Super Region Three, a deserved ranking based on their dominance in the regular season. There was some worry the Bisons could slip back down to No. 2 based on strength of schedule, but the committee rewarded the Bisons’ unblemished record.
The other GAC team in the bracket is Henderson State, who knocked off Ouachita Baptist in the 96th Battle of the Ravine on Saturday. You couldn’t have scripted a better rivalry day for the Reddies: snap a six-game losing streak to your rivals, make the playoffs, keep your rival at home. What a day Henderson State. They’ll take on No. 4 seed Central Missouri in the first round.
Let’s get to the recaps from this past weekend.
Henderson State 31, Ouachita Baptist 27
HSU- The Reddies won this game by holding the ball and sustaining drives, holding the ball for just under 40 minutes. The Reddies didn’t run the ball well, but converted 13-of-18 on third downs and, most importantly, didn’t turn the ball over all day. HSU really seized control in this one early in the second half, putting up 17 points on their first three drives of the half which nearly took up 20 minutes combined. The Reddies could’ve really put the game away in the final five minutes, but couldn’t take advantage of a Ouachita fumble just outside the red zone, setting the stage for a desperate comeback attempt. But give all the props to Henderson State. They played the game they had to play to win and did it to near perfection.
OUA- Just a really tough loss for the Tigers where seemingly everything went wrong. Two turnovers, two missed extra points, a missed field goal, losing starting quarterback Riley Harms (sure seems like the “bruised knee” is a lot more than that), among other things. The Tigers struggled to run the ball all day, but racked up 7.3 yards per play overall. The biggest issue was Ouachita just didn’t have the ball enough. Before the final two touchdown drives in a valiant comeback effort, the Tigers had the ball for four minutes and 15 seconds in the second half. It’s hard to generate any momentum offensively when you never have the ball. It’s a bitter end to a quality season for the Tigers.
Southern Nazarene 49, Oklahoma Baptist 21
SNU- The prediction here was the Crimson Storm would win against the Bison, but a blowout was not in the cards for this SNU play-by-play broadcaster. SNU moved the ball with relative ease against the Bison, racking up nearly 400 yards on the ground and 511 for the game. The defense was outstanding, holding the Bison to 18 yards rushing for the afternoon. A pick-six on the first play from scrimmage in the second half completely deflated the Bison and set off the party in Bethany. With the win, SNU secured it’s first-ever winning record in its short D2 era. It also, according to league sources, secured a berth in the Fun Town RV Heritage Bowl in Corsicana, TX. I don’t think anyone besides opposing defenses will complain about one last ticket to the Gage Porter Show.
OBU- The Bison predictably struggled to run the ball Saturday, but less predictably, could not stop the SNU offense. OBU forced a punt on the first SNU possession of each half, but the Crimson Storm scored touchdowns on the other six possessions in that eight-possession stretch. OBU sold out defensively to clogging the middle of the field, committing eight or nine guys in the box at times. SNU simply ran around them, as wide receiver Donald May ran for 111 yards on just seven carries with two scores on jet sweeps and speed option looks. A tough end to the season for the Bison, who were wiped off the field in their last two games against Ouachita and SNU.
Southeastern OSU 24, East Central 14
SEOSU- The Savage Storm rallied from a 14-0 deficit after allowing touchdowns on East Central’s first two possessions of the game. After those two possessions, the Savage Storm gave up just 82 yards and allowed ECU to cross midfield just once (barely) the rest of the game. SEOSU had a great day on the group, rushing for 288 yards on 53 carries against ECU. Overall, Southeastern nearly doubled the Tigers in plays, 83 to 49.
ECU- The Tigers started with a bang and then went quietly into the afternoon. The offense was the problem all year for East Central and it happened again on Saturday, as the Tigers were unable to hold on to their 14-0 halftime lead. ECU was just 2-of-14 on third down for the game and only had the ball for just under 24 minutes. A tough follow-up year for the Tigers after going 9-3 last year.
Southern Arkansas 60, Arkansas-Monticello 17
SAU- The Muleriders certainly had to be feeling a bit miffed seeing the team they beat, Henderson State, earn a playoff bid with a 9-2 record. However, the Muleriders were blown out by Harding and Ouachita while only beating the Reddies by one. Fair or not, perception matters and blowout losses aren’t going to help you. Still, a fantastic year in Magnolia that will be punctuated with a bowl trip after a big win over the Weevils. The Muleriders rushed for 426 yards and rolled up 622 total yards. It was clearly a rivalry game, as SAU managed to accumulate 19 penalties for 197 yards!
UAM- The Weevils ended the year on a nine-game losing streak, the second straight year they’ve started hot and then collapsed after an injury to quarterback Demilon Brown. Saturday, the Weevils simply couldn’t stop the Muleriders on the ground or get anything going themselves on offense.
Harding 56, Arkansas Tech 0
HU- The Bisons secured their first ever No.1 Super Region Three seed with their fourth shutout of the season. The formula was the same as it always is: smother the offense and pound away at the defense. The Bisons rushed for 343 yards while holding the Wonder Boys to -27 rushing yards thanks to the six sacks Harding racked up. The Bisons rushed for at least 343 yards against every team this year except Southern Nazarene, who held the Bisons to “just” 282 yards in the season opener. It will be fun to see how far the Bisons can go in the playoffs this year.
ATU- Not much to say about this one besides noting Harding did what they do and the Wonder Boys couldn’t do anything about it. But give credit to Tech, who could’ve folded up early in the year when they were 0-4 and trending in the wrong direction. 5-2 is a great stretch to close the year and provides a bit of hope for the future.
Northwestern OSU 41, Southwestern OSU 0
NWOSU- It’s been an abysmal year for the Rangers, so a 41-0 beatdown of their rivals had to feel good. The Rangers have been at least semi-competent offensively with Ethan Everson at quarterback and on Saturday, the signal-caller threw for 315 yards and three scores. Not sure what the future holds in Alva, but at least the Rangers ended the year with a win.
SWOSU- On the other hand, there’s no telling what the future holds in Weatherford. Needless to say, Ruzell McCoy probably won’t be getting the full-time job after serving as the interim coach this year. The Bulldogs had the pieces for a decent defense this year, but the complete ineffectiveness of the offense made life very difficult all year long. We’ll see what happens to this roster, as SWOSU has brought in a ton of transfers the last two years. But there’s a long way to go to relevance for the Bulldogs.
Predictions: 5-1, 57-9 for the year
The Good: Nailed the HSU-OUA and SEOSU-ECU scores
The Bad: Gave all the green teams (OBU, Tech, UAM) too much credit
The Ugly: Picking SWOSU over NWOSU