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Thursday, October 9, 2003
Harding seeks to turn season around after 0-2 league start

LITTLE ROCK -- Harding started the season brimming with confidence on the heels of a 9-2 mark in 2002.

The Bisons returned experience at every skill position on offense and they had seven starters back from the Gulf South Conference's third-rated defense.

A schedule that didn't include three-time league champion Valdosta State or state power Central Arkansas seemed suited for a title run.

However, Harding witnessed No. 11 North Alabama's return to form in a 38-3 loss in the Bisons' conference opener. A missed extra point and turnovers hurt in a 10-9 loss to Arkansas Tech a week later, all but ending the Bisons' hopes of winning the title.

"Any time you lose two in this league, there's not a great chance of winning the league," Harding coach Randy Tribble said. "We want to do the best we can and try to compete every week. We can still have a lot to play for and have a great year."

The Bisons (2-2, 1-2) started doing that last week when backup quarterback Adam Lybrand's 32-yard touchdown pass to Reid Smith gave them a 26-21 victory at West Alabama. Lybrand started for injured three-year starter Freddie Langston.

Harding hopes to extend that success this Saturday with a home game against West Georgia (2-3, 1-2).

"We're doing better now that we have a win," Tribble said. "There's nothing like winning for morale and everything. We're really proud of our offense for driving to get us a win."

In other Gulf South action this Saturday:

--Arkansas Tech (3-2, 2-1 Gulf South) faces Delta State (4-1, 2-1) after dropping its first league game on Henderson State's late field goal.

--Arkansas-Monticello (2-3, 1-2) takes a crack at No. 2 Valdosta State (5-0, 3-0).

--West Alabama (2-3, 1-2) tries to come back from a last-minute loss to Harding with a trip to Henderson State (3-2, 2-1).

--Ouachita Baptist (2-2, 1-2) faces its second ranked opponent on the road at North Alabama (5-0, 3-0).

--And after losing back-to-back games to Valdosta and North Alabama, Southern Arkansas (3-2, 1-2) looks to get back on track at Central Arkansas (2-3, 0-3).

Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2-4, 1-2 Southwestern Athletic Conference) will try to even its league record in its homecoming game against Texas Southern (2-3, 1-1).

The Golden Lions suffered their worst loss of the season last week against No. 18 Southern. UAPB trailed 40-0 before scoring its only touchdown midway through the third quarter of a 53-7 loss.

Southern outgained the Golden Lions 517-399, while UAPB committed six turnovers in the loss. Lenny Williams returned one of four interceptions 98 yards for a touchdown and a 28-0 lead.

Like Harding, Southern Arkansas entered this season optimistic about its chances to challenge for the league title, but the Muleriders have failed against top two teams.

A fumble near the goal line helped fuel a late surge by Valdosta in a 41-17 loss two weeks ago and then North Alabama took a 21-14 lead last week.

SAU led North Alabama 14-0 at halftime, but it couldn't stop the Lions in the second half. Will Hall completed 20 of 24 passes, including the game-winner with 1:13 remaining.

Now, the Muleriders have the task of keeping Central Arkansas from exploding. Since a 42-28 victory over UAPB, the Bears are 0-3 and they haven't scored more than 28 points.

UCA is the only Gulf South team without a win in conference.

Also like Harding, Henderson State bounced back from tough loss on freshman kicker Brian Mattox's 30-yard field goal with 20 seconds remaining against Arkansas Tech. The 16-13 victory allowed the Reddies to stay alive in the conference race

Henderson State and Arkansas Tech are the only two state schools with just one loss in conference.