Harding High’s Rams know how to seize an opportunity.
The Rams converted two West Mecklenburg fumbles into third-quarter touchdowns during Harding’s 45-21 victory Friday in the SoMeck 4A opener for both teams.
Harding atoned for last week’s loss to Mallard Creek by making West Meck pay for its mistakes. Safety Maleik Faust’s 39-yard fumble return for a score pushed the Rams’ advantage to 31-14, and another Hawks turnover became Quavaris Crouch’s 44-yard run for a 38-21 lead.
Crouch, the nation’s top-ranked junior running back, blasted through the Hawks for 246 yards on 22 carries.
The first half was tightly contested, with Harding taking a 17-14 lead when Crouch bolted 79 yards up the middle with 1 minute, 10 seconds to play.
JaQuan Ebron had put the Hawks in front 19 seconds earlier with a 19-yard reception from J’Mari Taylor after West Mecklenburg converted Montez Willis’ fourth-down pass from punt formation to keep the drive alive.
Crouch was electric in the first half with 168 yards, including Harding’s first score on a 1-yard run to tie the game at 7-7 in the first.
West Mecklenburg converted the half’s lone turnover into points when North Carolina commit Dyami Brown scored on a 1-yard run with 9:29 left in the first.
Records: West Mecklenburg is 4-2. Harding is 5-1.
Three who mattered
Crouch: The nation’s top junior running back ran up 246 yards on 22 carries, including 168 yards on 13 first-half attempts.
Ebron: The West Mecklenburg receiver caught four passes for 111 yards and two scores.
Faust: His 39-yard fumble return to open the second half changed momentum in Harding’s favor. He also registered a sack.
• Harding racked up five sacks, including three in the first half.
• Harding, which ran for 389 yards on 50 carries, didn’t complete a pass.
• West Meck faced the nation’s No. 1 senior running back (Scotland County’s Zamir White) and top junior running back (Crouch) in consecutive weeks. Both topped 200 yards rushing.
• Harding is home next Friday against Providence. West Meck will visit Ardrey Kell.