Ardrey Kell rolled to a big lead, then held on for dear life Friday night against Harding, scoring a 29-28 homecoming victory.
The Knights led 29-6 midway in the third quarter, but Harding offense came alive in the game’s final 19 minutes and nearly pulled out a SoMeck 7 4A victory.
Instead, it’s Ardrey Kell (5-1, 1-0) that has a five-game winning streak, equaling its total number of victories from a year ago.
“We probably didn’t get many style points for this game, but a win’s a win,” first-year Ardrey Kell coach Greg Jachym said, after his defense made a big stop in the closing minutes.
“We’ve got to learn how to close it out,” he added.
One problem for the Knights was special teams. Harding scored two touchdowns on blocked kicks, and those points kept the Rams (3-4, 0-1) in the game until the offense woke up.
Ardrey Kell raced in front, scoring twice in the first five minutes. Jared Joseph fired a 17-yard pass to Michael Hetzel for the first touchdown, and Joseph then broke free for a 41-yard scoring run on the Knights’ next series.
Ardrey Kell seemed poised to go in front 17-0 with about four minutes left in the first quarter, but Jackson Price’s field-goal try of 42 yards was blocked and returned 67 yards for a touchdown by Joshua Jones.
The Knights then added a second-quarter touchdown on a 27-yard pass from Joseph to Josh Johnson and went ahead 29-6 on a 40-yard Joseph-to-Brooks Stankavage pass with 7:18 left in the third quarter.
From there on, Harding dominated.
The Rams’ Kyree Faust recovered a blocked punt in the end zone with 58 seconds left in the third quarter. Then the offense got going, and Harding scored a pair of touchdowns on long plays in the final period. The second score, with 6:56 left, cut Ardrey Kell’s lead to 29-28.
That’s when the Knights’ defense made a key play. On the potential game-tying conversion kick, Ardrey Kell’s Kaci Seegars appeared to get a hand on Harding kicker Lee Bumbree’s attempt, and it was no good.
Harding got the ball at its 18 with 4:22 left, but Ardrey Kell’s defense stiffened and forced a punt. The Rams got possession for one final play, but the Knights’ Jaxon Anciso intercepted a halfback pass.
“They are a good team,” Jachym said of the Rams. “Coach (Van) Smith came in last year and has turned it around. Hats off to them. They didn’t quit.”
Three who mattered
Cedric Gray, Ardrey Kell: The Knights’ standout senior wide receiver-defensive back didn’t score Friday, but he threw a key block on Jared Joseph’s 41-yard touchdown run in the second period; made a 49-yard reception to set up another score; and snagged a pass near the end zone that had bounced off a defender.
Dekerius Thompson, Harding: Thompson rushed 14 times for 86 yards, caught three passes for 56 yards, and scored a touchdown.
Jared Joseph, Ardrey Kell: Joseph overthrew a few receivers, but he was sharp much of the night, completing 15 of 30 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran 41 yards for his team’s other touchdown.
▪ Ardrey Kell had 256 yards total offense in the first half. Harding’s defense stiffened in the second half, holding the Knights to 75 yards.
▪ Harding’s Kyree Faust, a sophomore, had a big game. He intercepted a pass late in the second half that halted an Ardrey Kell drive, then recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown late in the third period.
▪ Knights’ kicker Jackson Price put all six kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. That’s a big deal against a Harding team with several explosive kick returners.
▪ It was homecoming at Ardrey Kell, and Knights’ senior Evan Miller, a standout basketball player headed to UNC Wilmington, was crowned queen.
▪ After a season-opening loss to Weddington, Ardrey Kell has won five in a row. The last time Ardrey Kell won six in a row was in 2014, when the Knights went 10-4 and reached the third round of the state playoffs.
They said it
“I told the kids that we were 1-5 at this time a year ago, and we’re 5-1 now. We’ve got to get better and fix some things, but our kids are playing hard.” Ardrey Kell coach Greg Jachym.
Harding has a bye next week and resumes play Oct. 11 at South Mecklenburg. Ardrey Kell travels next Friday to West Mecklenburg.
Harding 6 0 8 14 -- 28
Ardrey Kell 15 7 7 0 -- 29
AK -- Michael Hetzel 17 pass from Jared Joseph (Jackson Price kiick)
AK -- Joseph 41 run (Hetzel run)
H -- Joshua Jones 67 return of blocked field goal (pass failed)
AK -- Josh Johnson 27 pass from Joseph (Price kick)
AK -- Brooks Stankavage 40 pass from Joseph (Price kick)
H -- Kyree Faust recovered blocked punt in end zone (Maleik Faust run)
H -- Dekerius Thompson 31 pass from Jarrett Robinson (Faust run)
H -- Tyquez Johnson 45 run (kick failed)