Tech defeats Harding, accepts C.H.A.M.P.S. bid

MATTHEW EMERY/THE ARKA TECH The Wonder Boys celebrate their victory.
MATTHEW EMERY/THE ARKA TECH The Wonder Boys celebrate their victory.
MATTHEW EMERY/THE ARKA TECH The Wonder Boys celebrate their victory.

The Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys earned a trip to play in the C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl after a 27-24 win over Great American Conference rival Harding on Saturday.

Tech will play Lone Star Conference member Eastern New Mexico at 6 p.m. on Dec. 5 in Copperas Cove for its first postseason appearance since 2009.

The Wonder Boys found the game and season winding to a close when they were down 24-10 at the start of the fourth quarter against Harding.

However, Arkansas Tech rallied back with 17 unanswered points, led by senior quarterback Arsenio Favor, who threw for 182 yards.

The game was a back-and-forth battle of defenses early on. Harding was able to score the lone points of the first quarter, a kick that would put the Wonder Boys behind 3-0.

Tech was able to get ahead briefly with 9:33 left in second quarter on a rush by Favor that saw him stripped in the end zone, but the ball was recovered by sophomore offensive tackle Stephen Watson for the touchdown.

However, Harding would answer right back with a pair of touchdowns to send the Wonder Boys into halftime trailing 17-7.

Following halftime, sophomore kicker Eric Perez sailed one through the uprights from 40-yards out to cut the margin to 17-10.

Harding would keep its foot on the gas though, as it stretched the lead to 24-10 with 9:10 left to play in the third quarter.

On its opening drive of the fourth quarter, Harding appeared to be putting the finishing touches on the game, as they had gotten the ball to the 6-yard line.

A sack and false start backed Harding up to the 24-yard line and forced the team to go for the field goal. A wild snap was picked up by junior linebacker Nick Akins, who returned it 67 yards for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 24-17.

After a three-and-out by Harding, Perez was able to drill his second field goal of the day, this one from 36-yards out, which cut the lead to 24-20 with 6:38 remaining.

With 4:11 left in the game, the Wonder Boys began a huge drive that saw Favor complete a fourth-and-12 pass to senior receiver Jermaine Murdock, which set Tech up with a new set of downs at the 4-yard line.

It was freshman running back Bryan Allen who powered in for the Wonder Boys with only 1:26 remaining in the game to give Tech the victory.

Junior defensive lineman Bruce Livingston and senior linebacker Logan Genz both led the Tech defense with 13 stops. Livingston also racked up a sack in the effort.

On ending the regular season in such a dramatic fashion, Favor said, “It means a lot. What a way to put an end to this season. You can write out a story in a better way.”

Genz added, ”We had things fall in our favor at the end, and we took advantage of them.”

During the postgame huddle at midfield, an emotional head coach Raymond Monica addressed his team. “I know Zemaric is looking down with a big smile on his face,” he said.

The win makes the Wonder Boys 8-3, which makes them tied for second place in the conference with Southwestern Oklahoma. The eight wins and second place finish is the highest Tech has achieved since joining the GAC in 2011.

When asked to sum up the 2015 Wonder Boys football season in one word, Genz simply said “amazing.”