By JASON KING
Seth Keese has completed his share of big passes and had his share of rushes for big gains, but it was a quartet of short-yardage runs for Harding Academy’s senior quarterback that made the biggest difference Friday.
Keese led the Wildcats to a 35-6 victory over Rison in the quarterfinal round of the 3A state playoffs Friday at First Security Stadium. Keese had 182 yards passing rushed for 86 yards and four touchdowns to go over the 9,000-yards mark for his career.
Harding Academy (11-1) will play host to defending 3A champion Fountain Lake, a 44-21 quarterfinal winner over Mansfield, on Friday for a chance to advance to the state finals at War Memorial Stadium on Dec. 11.
Friday’s game was scoreless through the first quarter and into the second before Keese got the first of his four short-yardage touchdown runs with less than seven minutes left until halftime.
Keese capped off a 70-yard drive with a two-yard run up the middle.
Senior kicker Josh Spears added the first of his five extra-point kicks to give Harding Academy a 7-0 lead.
Rison (11-2) answered with a touchdown run by halfback Rock Caldwell, but Keese found the end zone again before the half, this time on a one-yard keeper to give Harding Academy a 14-6 lead at the break.
But Rison was not able to keep pace in a second half that was controlled by Harding Academy.
Caldwell, Rison’s longtime standout halfback, finished with 23 carries for 150 yards, but less than 20 of those came in the second half. Harding Academy’s defense clamped down in the final two quarters and gave up only one first down while capitalizing on Rison mistakes.
The biggest miscue for Rison came midway through the third quarter when Keese jumped on a fumble inside the Rison 35-yard line.
Harding Academy pushed the ball inside the 5, where again Keese called his own number on another one-yard run that put the Wildcats ahead 28-6.
Harding Academy’s first drive of the second half took a little longer, as Keese led the offense 80 yards in 13 plays and capped off the possession with his third short scoring run.
Senior tailback Ben Lecrone set the final margin for Harding Academy with a 25-yard touchdown run to start the fourth quarter. Lecrone finished with 14 carries for 121 yards.
Keese rushed 16 times for his yardage and completed 14 of 18 passes for 182 yards with one interception.
Senior receiver Jay Bona was Keese’s most frequent target with six catches for 55 yards, while classmate Corey Guymon had four catches for 45 yards.
Senior wide receiver Tyler Curtis made the most of his two receptions as he totaled 67 yards that included a 41-yard catch on third and long during Harding Academy’s long scoring drive.