ARKADELPHIA, Ark. — It was fireworks from the start on Saturday night in Clark County as Southern Arkansas nearly knocked off #18 Henderson State in Great American Conference play before falling 56-49 in a shootout from Ruggles Field inside Carpenter-Haygood Stadium. The Reddies remain unbeaten at 4-0, while Southern Arkansas falls to 2-2 on the season despite tallying 577 yards of offense and forcing four interceptions, including one pick-six, in a hot start to the Week 4 affair.
Redshirt freshman Jariq Scales eclipsed 200 yards on the ground, freshman Cole Williams recorded career-highs in catches (9) and yards (108), and sophomore Dekendrick Bender caught three of Hayden Mallory’s four touchdown passes to highlight the offensive output. The Muleriders picked off four passes, held All-American L’lliot Curry to eight catches and were led in tackles by sophomore Onyei Orupabo and freshman Rayvon Ingram who each had seven.
It was a tale of two quarters in the first 30 minutes of action as Southern Arkansas jumped out to a 28-0 lead behind a pair of touchdown runs from Scales, a six-yard touchdown pass from Mallory to Bender, and a 35-yard interception return from Del Kristoffer Wade. Wade’s six highlighted a three-interception first quarter by the SAU Defense and a four-interception first half from the unit which included a turnover on the first play of the game as HSU tried to strike early on a Adam Morse to L’lliot Curry connection that Orupabo abruptly interrupted.
The four-score quarter by the Muleriders was highlighted by the aforementioned three interceptions that totaled 80 yards and led to 21 points. Orupabo’s pick led to Scales scoring from 28-yards out to cap a six-play drive. Henderson State’s second drive ended in a turnover-on-downs, but the third drive was stopped on an interception by junior Brock Floyd who returned it 45 yards to the HSU6 and led to the first Mallory-to-Bender connection of the night on the very next play.
On the third play of the next Reddie drive, Wade got in on the takeaway act as he returned a pick by Morse on a third and eight pass play to the endzone as SAU built the 28-point lead in just under 13 and a half minutes.
The Reddies rallied in the second quarter and took advantage of a handful of stalled drives, two Mulerider turnovers and failed fourth down attempt by Southern Arkansas on SAU’s end of the field to put 35 points on the board and carry a seven-point lead into the intermission of one of the wildest first halves of action in recent memory for Mulerider fans. SAU recorded its fourth interception as redshirt freshman Jalen Davis recorded a pick in the end zone of deep pass by Morse in that bountiful second quarter for HSU.
Southern Arkansas used a nine-play, 75-yard drive out of the halftime break to tie the game at 35. Mallory again found Bender, this time from 22-yards out, to answer the Reddies’ previous 35 points.
Henderson State would retake the lead at 42-35 with a 13-play, 73-yard drive that took over six minutes off of the third-quarter clock. The Muleriders would answer with a drive that pushed the football down inside the ten yard line, but an interception that resulted in a 100-yard return pushed HSU out 49-35 with 49 seconds to play in the third quarter.
Relentless in defeat, SAU continued to battle as Bender hauled in his third touchdown of the night at the 13:16 mark of the fourth quarter. An 87-yard drive ensued for HSU as the Reddies’ lead grew to 15 at 56-41 with under four minutes to play. In the final minute, Mallory connected with sophomore Trent Franklin both for six and the two-point try, but the following pooch kick was recovered to end the back-and-forth affair.
Scales becomes the first Mulerider running back to eclipse the 200-yard mark since November 6, 2013 when Mark Johnson rushed for 219 yards against Arkansas-Monticello.
Southern Arkansas heads back to the Sooner State for a Week 5 meeting with East Central in Ada. Kickoff from Norris Field is set for 2 p.m. Live coverage links are available at www.MuleriderAthletics.com.