Harding’s bid to knock off high school football’s royalty completely unraveled in the final 14 minutes Friday night, as opportunistic Mallard Creek rallied for a 30-9 victory.
In a game that was much closer than the score indicates, the Mavericks, ranked No. 2 in the Observer’s Sweet 16 and state 4AA champion three of the last four years, scored 27 straight points after Harding had led late into the third quarter.
The Rams were done in by a bad snap on a punt, which set up a short Mallard Creek touchdown; three lost fumbles, one of which was returned for a touchdown and another that ruined a Harding drive; and a pick-six.
Mallard Creek defensive back Adonis Henderson scored on an 81-yard fumble return with 8:37 left in the game and on a 32-yard interception return with 3:40 to play.
The turnaround came when Harding, ranked No. 8 in the Sweet 16, attempted to punt from its 38 with about two minutes left in the third quarter, ahead 9-3. The snap went over punter Alejandro Guevera’s head, and he recovered at his 1. Mallard Creek scored on the next play and took a 10-9 lead.
The Mavericks needed the defense, because their offense was held to less than 100 total yards by Harding.
Records: Harding is 4-1; Mallard Creek is 4-0.
3 who mattered
Adonis Henderson (Mallard Creek): He had a career night, all in the fourth quarter, with touchdowns on returns of a fumbled punt and an interception.
Jadyn Washington (Mallard Creek): Played a steady game at quarterback and ran 29 yards for a touchdown that sealed the victory with 3:51 left.
Quavaris Crouch (Harding): The No. 1-ranked running back in the nation’s junior class carried 37 times for 226 yards and a touchdown.
▪ The two teams had less than 100 yards’ total offense combined in the first half. The Rams held the Mavericks to minus-10 yards rushing. Mallard Creek finished the game with 96 yards total offense – 50 rushing, 46 passing.
▪ Harding quarterback Braheam Murphy didn’t try his first pass until there was 2:11 left in the third quarter. On the next play, the snap on a punt went over the punter’s head.
▪ Harding had bad field position to start its drives in the third quarter, opening those drives from the Rams’ 4 and then from the 13.
▪ This was the teams’ first meeting in seven years. Harding won in 2007 and 2008, and Mallard Creek scored decisive victories in 2009 and 2010.
▪ The game drew a near-full house at Harding. The Rams are drawing big crowds under coach Sam Greiner, who has renovated the program.
▪ Harding opens South Meck 7 4A play next Friday at home against conference favorite West Mecklenburg; Mallard Creek opens I-Meck 4A action next Friday at rival Vance.