Friendship Christian sent Harding Academy back to Memphis on Friday night. The Commanders will follow next Friday after dispatching the Lions 51-33 in the first Division II playoff game held at Pirtle Field.
Behind the 1-2 running punch of Austin Taylor and Steven Hollis, the Commanders churned up 310 rushing yards. Taylor totaled 184 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries while Hollis had 130 and two scores on 17, plus an 89-yard kickoff return and a 53-yard scoring pass from A.J. Long.
That was enough to offset 111 yards on 12 penalties and 370 yards from Harding.
Carliss Settles ran for 151 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. Jackson Ward completed half of his 20 passes for 193 yards and three scores – two to Jesse Adkins and one to Brayden Shelby, who totaled 103 yards on six receptions.
Commander coach John McNeal sent Long under center often with Taylor and Hollis interchangeable in the I-formation to great effect.
“The first game of the year we had success in the I running downhill at them,” said McNeal, whose Commanders bookended the Lions’ 4-7 season with twin losses at Pirtle Field. “We ran a lot of multiple stuff at them early in the game. Later in the game, we decided to line up and let our guys up front do their job and they did.
“Clock runs and first downs happens. As long as we get it in the end zone after a period of time, I’d rather do it with time running five or six minutes rather than a couple of minutes. The guys wanted it. They said, ‘Coach, let’s run it at them’, so that’s what we did.”
Friendship was about to score first when a motion penalty wiped out a Hollis sweep to the 1-yard line.
Harding got the ball on downs and a pair of 39-yard gains – a run by Settles and a Ward pass to Shelby, had the Lions in the end zone. But the extra point snap was botched, leaving the visitors up 6-0.
Friendship overcame a pair of third-and-long situations on the next series. Long, who hit half of his eight passes for 134 yards, found Hollis for 34 yards to get into Harding territory. Lined up under center, Long rolled out and found Hollis for 53 yards to tie the score. Blake Grosch missed a rare extra point.
He didn’t miss again as Taylor scored on a 12-yard run in the final seconds of the first quarter and Hollis’ 40-yarder with just over four minutes left in the second. He closed the first half with a 30-yard field goal for a 23-13 lead.
Harding missed a 30-yard field goal, but got a 12-yard scoring hookup from Ward to Adkins.
Gene Carman blocked a Wes Frohs 30-yard field-goal try on Harding’s opening series of the second half.
Friendship drove to the Harding 1 before losing a fumble. But Cody Walker grabbed a Lion fumble on third down and Hollis scored from the 2 on the next play for a 30-13 lead.
The teams exchanged scores for most of the rest of the night. Settles’ 8-yard scoring run was followed by Hollis’ 89-yard kick return to the house.
Marquavious Moore’s 29-yard scoring scamper was answered by Long’s 1-yard leap which broke the plane just enough.
Adkins took a short pass from Ward, broke a tackle and took it 42 yards to the house with 4:15 to play.
Taylor followed by a 34-yard run, setting up his 4-yard score.
“[Taylor] and Hollis are both good outside runners and good inside runners,” McNeal said. “They are great for each other with Cody [Walker] blocking for them at fullback.”
Carman finally broke the tit-for-tat by intercepting Ward’s final pass of the night.
The 6-foot-4 Shelby was a load for the Commander secondary all night long. One long catch came despite blanket coverage by the much-smaller Hollis.
“He’s just good,” McNeal said of Shelby. “He hurt us in the first game and he hurt us in this game. You just take what you can get. We scored 51, you would hope that would be enough even though that’s pushing it.
“He had a lot of heighth on us. Hollis had great position in a couple of catches that athletically he went up and made.”
Both teams had explosive return games. While Hollis was burning the Lions, Calvin Austin had a couple of long runbacks of 51 and 60 yards in the first half.
“We’ve had issues with that,” McNeal said. “We’d rather give it to them at the 40 than our 40. We changed it up and they did a good job of making that adjustment.”
Following Carman’s interception and a couple of kneeldowns, the Commanders were 8-2 and prepping for the longest road trip in Friendship football history, a journey to St. George’s in the east Memphis suburbs next Friday at 7 p.m. FCS will have a slightly longer one at the start of next season when the Commanders travel inside the I-240 loop for the return game at Harding.
This will be the Commanders’ first football trip to the Bluff City after years of traveling east to Chattanooga in the Division I playoffs. They also played a series of regular-season games at Cosby near the North Carolina border in the 1990s.
“We’re just glad we’re playing,” McNeal said.
Friendship Christian 51, Harding Academy 33
Harding Academy 6 7 8 12—33
Friendship Christian 13 10 14 14—51
Harding Academy—Brayden Shelby 39 pass from Jackson Ward [run failed], 7:50.
Friendship Christian—Steven Hollis 53 pass from A.J. Long [kick failed], 4:15.
Friendship Christian—Austin Taylor 12 run [Blake Grosch kick], :03.
Friendship Christian—Hollis 40 run [Grosch kick], 4:05.
Harding Academy—Jesse Adkins 12 pass from Ward [Wes Frohs kick], 1:40.
Friendship Christian—Grosch 30 FG, :02.
Friendship Christian—Hollis 2 run [Grosch kick], 3:25.
Harding Academy—Carliss Settles 8 run [Shelby pass from Ward], :23.
Friendship Christian—Hollis 89 kick return [Grosch kick], :05.
Harding Academy—Marquavious Moore 29 run [pass failed], 9:16.
Friendship Christian—Long 1 run [Grosch kick], 5:08.
Harding Academy—Adkins 42 pass from Ward [fumbled snap], 4:15.
Friendship Christian—Taylor 4 run [Grosch kick], 2:25.
Harding Academy Friendship Christian
First downs 15 20
—Rushing 7 14
—Passing 6 3
—Penalty 2 3
Rushes-yards 32-177 48-310
Passing yards 193 134
Comp.-Att.-Int. 10-20-1 4-8-0
Total yards 370 444
Punts-avg. 1-25.0 0-0
Penalties-yards 12-91 12-111
Fumbles lost 1 1
RUSHING—Harding Academy: Calvin Austin 1-4, Jackson Ward 7-[-13], Nick Martin 1-7, Marquavious Moore 2-28, Carliss Settles 21-151. Friendship Christian: Steven Hollis 17-130, A.J. Long 10-[-4], Austin Taylor 21-184.
PASSING—Harding Academy: Jackson Ward 10-20-1—193. Friendship Christian 4-8-1—134.
RECEIVING—Harding Academy: Brayden Shelby 6-103, Nick Martin 1-[-2], Jesse Adkins 2-54, Carliss Settles 1-38. Friendship Christian: Austin Taylor 1-20, Steven Hollis 2-87, Cody Walker 1-27.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—Harding Academy, Wes Frohs 30 [wide right], 30 [blocked].