By Caitlin Rickard
The Harding Academy Lions, who were visiting from Memphis, weren’t enough to stop the back-to-back state champion Friendship Christian Commanders Friday at Pirtle Field.
Harding scored quickly in the first quarter on a 2-yard run by Carliss Settles, but that would be all the scoring the Lions could produce.
The Commanders answered later in the first quarter with a 92-yard touchdown interception by A.J. Long. Lions quarterback Jackson Ward would go on to throw two more interceptions throughout the game.
Penalties and turnovers also plagued the Lions, who had 11 penalties for 110 yards and six turnovers; three interceptions and three lost fumbles.
The Commanders held control of the ball for most of the second quarter and scored again on a 21-yard pass from Long to wide receiver Michael Hawks.
The third quarter looked to be a little more worrisome for the Commanders as multiple players went down with what appeared to be injuries.
“We had a few players with cramps throughout the game but thankfully it only took each one out for a play or two,” Friendship coach John McNeal said. “We’ve had such nice weather during the preseason that heat hasn’t been much of a factor.”
However, three turnovers in the quarter for the Lions helped put the Commanders back on track.
Long ran the ball in from the 2-yard line for a touchdown in the last half of the third quarter, putting the Commanders up 21-6.
After losing yet another fumble going into the fourth quarter, the Lions handed the ball over again.
The Commanders then capitalized by carrying the ball downfield. Cody Walker ran the ball in from the 1-yard line, stretching their lead to 28-6.
Friendship put one more drive in the end zone, with Austin Taylor running from 10 yards out.
Ward threw one more interception for the Lions late in the fourth quarter, with Hawks returning the pick for 60 yards.
McNeal said the game was a typical season opener to him but he was proud of his player’s first showing.
“We had some ups and downs but I’m happy with the way things turned out,” McNeal said. “The players fought hard and once we finally got control up front things came together.”
Friendship is off next week. The Commanders will play their inaugural East-Middle District opener at 7 p.m. Sept. 6 at home against King’s Academy.
Friendship Christian 35, Harding Academy 6
Harding Academy 6 0 0 0-6
Friendship Christian 7 7 7 14-35
Harding Academy —Settles 2 run, (failed conversion)
Friendship Christian —Long 92 INT, (Grosch kick)
Friendship Christian —Hawks 21 pass from Long, (Grosch kick)
Friendship Christian —Long 2 run, (Grosch kick)
Friendship Christian —Walker 1 run, (Grosch kick)
Friendship Christian — Taylor 10 run, (Grosch kick)
First downs 6 16
Rushes-yards 17-39 53-192
Passing yards 214 61
Comp.-Att.-Int. 15-35-3 6-10-0
Punts-avg. 4-33 4-28
Penalties-yards 11-110 6-60
Fumbles lost 3 2
RUSHING — Friendship Christian: Steven Hollis 16-86, A.J. Long 6-6, Austin Taylor 17-67, Price Cochran 1-[-30], Michael Hawks 1-3, Cody Walker 8-58, Samuel Hollis 1-3, John Michael Petty 3-[-1]. Harding: Carliss Settles 9-4, Marquavious Moore 3-3, Jackson Ward 4-35, Isaiah Cummings 1-[-3].
PASSING — Friendship Christian: A.J. Long 6-10-0-61. Harding: Jackson Ward 15-35-3-214.
RECEIVING — Friendship Christian: Steven Hollis 1-6, Hayden White 2-16, Michael Hawks 3-39. Harding: Brayden Shelby 2-95, Paul Cameron 1-4, Jesse Adkins 6-42, Bryant Lee 2-40, Carliss Settles 2-7, Calvin Austin 1-31, Christian Santiago 1-[-5].