Beauty of the Brotherhood

In the rich history of Harding’s football legacy, the Brotherhood stands as a testament to collective will, love, heart and passion, dating back to the reinstatement of football in 1959. 

Under the seasoned leadership of head coach Paul Simmons, a 1995 graduate and former player, the 2023 Harding Bisons embodied the true essence of the Brotherhood — a unity forged on the field, echoing the legacy of those who laid the foundation. 

The Huckeba Field House, standing tall since 2019, symbolizes not only progress but also the unwavering support of former players who funded the facility entirely through their generous donations. 

Beyond being a season of victories, the 2023 campaign — culminating in a 15-0 record, a Great American Conference championship, and triumph in the NCAA Division II Super Region 3 — was a collective achievement, a testament to the indomitable spirit of the Brotherhood. 

Notable regular-season wins included a 27-16 road triumph against No. 20 Henderson State, marked by the Brotherhood’s resilience in overcoming a bus breakdown, and a resounding 41-10 victory over No. 5 Ouachita Baptist in Searcy, reflecting the team’s strength and determination. 

Statistical prowess became a canvas for the relentless heart and passion of the Brotherhood, scoring a school-record 97 touchdowns, recording 102 tackles for loss and rushing for an NCAA single-season record  6,160 yards — a collective effort etched in the annals of Harding’s football history. 

The NCAA playoffs witnessed the testing of the Brotherhood with two one-point victories over Central Missouri and Grand Valley State, showcasing an unyielding determination that defined Harding’s remarkable journey. 

The grand finale in McKinney, Texas, saw the pinnacle of a perfect season when Harding secured the NCAA Division II national championship with a resounding 38-7 victory over Colorado School of Mines. The celebration was not just about the triumph on the field; it was a testament to the enduring beauty of the Brotherhood. 


Below is a short game-by-game summary of the historic season that culminated in the national championship.

Harding 53, Southern Nazarene 20

Harding started the season on a warm August night in Bethany, Oklahoma, as the Bisons took on Southern Nazarene University and senior quarterback Gage Porter, 2022 GAC Offensive Player of the Year.

The Bisons put the game away early. Junior fullback Blake Delacruz had four rushing touchdowns in the game’s first 16 minutes, and Harding led 35-0 at halftime.

The Bisons finished with six rushing touchdowns, and the defense intercepted Porter three times.

It was the fifth time in program history Harding opened a season by scoring more than 50 points and the Bisons’ 46th win in 72 season openers.

Harding 49, Oklahoma Baptist 10

No. 12 Harding rolled up 513 total yards, scored three rushing touchdowns and three passing touchdowns, and had a 72-yard fumble return for another touchdown in a 49-10 victory over Oklahoma Baptist in the home opener at First Security Stadium.

The Bisons scored touchdowns on six of nine possessions, punted once, missed a field goal, and ran out the last eight and a half minutes of the game on a drive that ended with a kneel down deep in Oklahoma Baptist territory.

Harding limited Oklahoma Baptist to only 9 rushing yards, the fifth-fewest the Bisons have ever allowed in a GAC game and the fewest since limiting Oklahoma Baptist to 3 yards rushing in 2021.

Harding 59, Arkansas-Monticello 19

Harding's defense stifled GAC’s highest-scoring offense, allowing only two offensive touchdowns and 217 total yards while forcing four turnovers. Meanwhile, Harding’s offense dominated with 424 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, resulting in a resounding 59-19 victory over Arkansas-Monticello before a Family Weekend crowd of more than 3,000 at First Security Stadium.

The Bisons scored five rushing touchdowns with junior fullback Blake Delacruz contributing three of them, propelling them to a commanding 35-12 halftime lead.

Harding showcased its depth by utilizing 13 different players in the running game.

Harding 27, Henderson State 16

The Brotherhood came to the rescue of the 2023 team before this game ever started. A team bus broke down after leaving Searcy for the game in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. A call went out on social media for Harding fans to pick up players and take them to the game. Soon everyone had a ride, and Harding’s exciting season continued.

After a sluggish first half, Harding turned to junior fullback Blake Delacruz to lead them to a 27-16 victory over Henderson State in GAC play at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium.

The 10th-ranked Bisons improved to 4-0 overall and in conference with the win, Harding’s fifth consecutive win over Henderson State in Arkadelphia.

Delacruz carried the ball an impressive 31 times, accumulating a then career-high 179 yards and scoring three touchdowns.

Trailing 9-7 at halftime, Delacruz propelled the Bisons to victory with two crucial third-quarter touchdowns. 

It was the first of what would be six wins over nationally ranked teams during the 2023 season.

Harding 64, Southwestern Oklahoma 0

The home crowd witnessed the first of two straight shutouts and the first of a team-record four shutouts for the season.

Tenth-ranked Harding gained 587 yards and limited Southwestern Oklahoma to only 79 in the Bisons’ 64-0 victory at First Security Stadium.

The Bisons rushed for 462 yards and five touchdowns, passed for 125 yards and two touchdowns, and had two touchdowns on interception returns.

Defensively, they held Southwestern to only four first downs, 29 rushing yards, 1.8 yards per play and 1-of-13 on third downs. The Bulldogs punted 10 times. The Bisons did not punt.

With 462 rushing yards, Harding exceeded the 300-yard rushing mark for the 100th time since switching to the flex bone offense in 2010.

Harding 62, Northwestern Oklahoma University 0

The longest road trip of the season — more than seven hours to Alva, Oklahoma — had no effect on Harding, producing its second straight shutout.

Ninth-ranked Harding scored touchdowns on all seven of its offensive possessions and added two interception returns for touchdowns, cruising to a 62-0 victory over Northwestern Oklahoma.

With the victory, Harding extended its NCAA Division II-best winning streak to 10 games and improved to 6-0.

Harding rushed for 381 yards and six touchdowns, and starting quarterback Cole Keylon threw a 34-yard touchdown. The Bison defense limited Northwestern Oklahoma to only 107 total yards and intercepted four passes. Oric Walker Jr. returned his pick 99 yards for a touchdown, and Travis Greenawalt took his back 51 yards for a score. 

Harding had six defensive touchdowns in its first six games.


Harding 41, Ouachita Baptist 10

You did not have to be part of the Brotherhood to know that this was a big one.

No. 9 Harding emphatically ended NCAA Division II's longest road winning streak and second-longest conference winning streak with a 41-10 victory over No. 5 Ouachita Baptist in Great American Conference action at First Security Stadium.

With the victory, Harding extended its own winning streak to 11 games. The Bisons improved to 7-0 overall for only the second time in program history and the first time since 2016. Ouachita entered with an 11-game road winning streak and 18-game conference winning streak. Harding ended both.

Ouachita tied the game at 10-10 with a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half. It was all Harding from then on. Harding scored four rushing touchdowns in the second half including two from sophomore Braden Jay to pull away.

Harding rushed for 427 yards, led by 131 on 10 carries from Jay. Ouachita averaged more than 440 yards per game, but Harding’s defense limited the Tigers to only 234 yards including only 79 passing yards.


Harding 54, Southern Arkansas 20

This one might have been Harding’s most impressive offensive showing of the season.

Sixth-ranked Harding eclipsed the 600-yard rushing mark for the second time in program history and had two players with more than 200 rushing yards for the first time ever in a 54-20 victory over Southern Arkansas.

It was the second time Harding played Southern Arkansas in the Murphy USA Classic at Memorial Stadium in El Dorado, Arkansas.

Harding rushed for 631 yards, second only to its school-record 689 yards at Northwestern Oklahoma in 2021, and scored seven rushing touchdowns. Braden Jay rushed eight times for 202 yards and a touchdown, and Blake Delacruz carried 16 times for 201 yards and two touchdowns.


Harding 55, Southeastern Oklahoma 0

And this one might have been Harding’s most impressive defensive showing.

The fourth-ranked Harding Bisons rushed for 436 yards and seven touchdowns, and the defense forced five turnovers, including four interceptions, in a 55-0 Great American Conference victory over Southeastern Oklahoma.

The victory was Harding’s 13th straight, tied for the longest in program history, and moved the Bisons to 9-0 overall and in conference action. It was the largest margin of victory and the first shutout in the 34 meetings between the teams. It was Harding’s third shutout of the season, the first time since 1965 the Bisons had three shutouts in the same season.

Harding scored on five of its six first half possessions and forced three turnovers to lead 31-0 at halftime.

Southeastern converted only one third down the entire game.


Harding 48, East Central 7

Sunny skies and a huge Brotherhood crowd welcomed Harding for Homecoming and Senior Day against East Central.

Fourth-ranked Harding rushed for 528 yards and seven touchdowns and held the ball for almost 40 minutes in a 48-7 Homecoming victory over East Central, leaving Harding as the only remaining undefeated team in Division II.

The victory was Harding’s school-record 14th straight and pushed the Bisons to 10-0 overall. Harding won its ninth straight Homecoming.

Harding scored touchdowns on its first seven possessions, all on drives of 52 yards or longer with the longest drive of 92 yards early in the second half.

Harding’s defense limited East Central to only seven first downs, 22 rushing yards, 134 total yards and 3-of-12 on third down.


Harding 56, Arkansas Tech 0

A dominant first half set up No. 2 Harding for an historic afternoon at Thone Stadium.

Harding shutout Arkansas Tech 56-0 to conclude its regular season at 11-0. The Bisons won their sixth football conference championship and third outright Great American Conference championship (also 2016 and 2021).

It was Harding’s fourth shutout of the season, the first time ever that the Bisons had four shutouts in the same season. Harding tied a school record with -27 rushing allowed.

Harding scored touchdowns all kinds of ways in the first half—an interception return, three rushing touchdowns, a punt return, and a 44-yard pass on the final play of the first half. The Bisons led 42-0 at the break.

The Sunday afternoon following the victory over Tech, Harding gathered at First Security Stadium to watch the NCAA selection show where the team found out that it was the No. 1 seed in Super Region 3, would receive a bye in the first round, and could play all but the last of its playoff games at home.

After watching the first week’s playoff games, Harding learned that its first playoff opponent would be Central Missouri, which featured one of the most impressive passing attacks in Division II.

After leading for most of the game, Harding won on a very special special-teams play.


Harding 35, Central Missouri 34

Harding junior Gage Price blocked the potential game-tying extra point and lit the fuse on a delirious celebration among Bison fans at First Security Stadium following a 35-34 victory over Central Missouri in the second round of the NCAA Division II Playoffs.

Harding led 35-21 with 6:52 left in the game, but Central Missouri scored on an 87-yard touchdown pass from Zach Zebrowski to Arkell Smith and forced the Bisons’ only punt of the game. The Mules took over at the Harding 31-yard line and scored on a 6-yard Zebrowski pass to Smith with 22 seconds remaining.

Central Missouri elected to kick the extra point. Mule kicker Luke Dobson had made all 67 of his attempts this season. Price, who had already blocked three kicks this season and earned All-Great American Conference as a special teams player, pushed up the middle and blocked number 68 with his left hand to send the Bisons to the next round.

Harding, the top-ranked rushing offense in the NCAA, ran up 384 yards and five touchdowns.


Harding 7, Grand Valley State 6

Same margin of victory for Harding in the Quarterfinal Round, but a completely different game.

No. 3 Harding needed one drive.

Trailing Grand Valley State by six with time ticking away in the fourth quarter against one of the most ferocious defenses in NCAA Division II football, that drive finally came.

Harding went 73 yards on 15 plays, consuming almost nine minutes, and sophomore quarterback Cole Keylon scored from 1 yard out on fourth down to give the Bisons a 7-6 victory and its second-ever berth in the national semifinals.

The victory came six years to the day after Harding kicked a game-winning field goal to defeat Ferris State, a different Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference opponent, 16-14 to advance to the 2017 national semifinal.


Harding 55, Lenoir-Rhyne 14

After a pair of one-point victories in its first two NCAA Division II Playoff games, No. 3 Harding put its national semifinal game away early and set an NCAA single-season rushing record in the process.

Harding scored six rushing touchdowns, returned a kickoff for another score and even threw a touchdown pass in a dominant 55-14 victory over Lenoir-Rhyne at a sun-drenched First Security Stadium.

Harding scored touchdowns on four of its five possessions in the first half, including two from junior fullback Blake Delacruz, and led 28-0 on Braden Jay’s 1-yard touchdown run with 1:34 left in the half.

Lenoir-Rhyne answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive that took only 80 seconds off the clock and cut Harding’s lead to 28-7 with 14 seconds remaining. Jay returned the ensuing kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown, and the Bisons were on to the national championship.


Harding 38, Colorado School of Mines 7

This one was for the Brotherhood.

Harding’s offense rushed for 502 yards and five touchdowns, the defense sacked 2022 Harlon Hill Award winner John Matocha six times, and the Bisons won the first NCAA national championship in program history with a 38-7 victory over Colorado School of Mines at McKinney ISD Stadium.

There were more than 6,000 members of the Bison nation there to witness with Harding's side of the stadium completely filled, the student section in full voice, and black-and-gold pom poms waving for as far as the eye could see.

Harding scored on each of its first six possessions, five touchdowns and a field goal. Mines scored on its first possession and never again, and Harding had its first NCAA Division II national championship.



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