Nick Akins started the 2015 Arkansas Tech University season with a defensive touchdown. On Saturday, he did it again to spark one of the greatest comeback wins in the 101-season history of the program.
The Wonder Boys (8-3) rallied from a two-touchdown deficit in the final 11 minutes to defeat Harding University 27-24 in the regular season finale at Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field in Russellville.
With the win, Arkansas Tech kept its hopes for a postseason bowl game alive and sent its 14 seniors out with a victory in their final home game.
It was the Wonder Boys’ first win over Harding since 2009. Tech reached the eight-win plateau in a season for just the fifth time since 1971.
The Bisons (7-4) led 24-10 after three quarters, and they seemed poised to put it away with a score early in the fourth after they reached the Wonder Boys’ 6-yard line. A sack by Arkansas Tech’s Bruce Livingston forced Harding into a field goal try.
The snap was high and fumbled, allowing Akins to recover the loose ball for the Wonder Boys and race 67 yards untouched down the left sideline for a touchdown that permanently shifted the momentum into Arkansas Tech’s corner.
Eric Perez added a 36-yard field goal at the 6:38 mark of the fourth quarter to pull the Wonder Boys within 24-20.
Harding turned the ball over on downs at the Arkansas Tech 46-yard line with 4:11 remaining, providing the Wonder Boys with a chance to put together the kind of scoring drive that lives forever in the lore of a football program.
Arkansas Tech did just that. Quarterback Arsenio Favor found Jandt Weary for a 36-yard pass to move the Wonder Boys into scoring position. Three plays later, on fourth-and-12 from the Harding 20-yard line, Favor threw across the middle and connected with Jermaine Murdock on a 16-yard pass that kept Tech’s chances afloat.
Kristian Thompson ran up the middle for one yard on first down. Bryan Allen took a pitch on second down, went around right end and pushed the pile into the end zone for the go-ahead 3-yard touchdown run with 1:26 remaining.
The touchdown covered Allen’s 998th, 999th, and 1,000th rushing yards of the season. It is the 10th 1,000-yard rushing season by a Wonder Boy all-time. He is Tech’s first 1,000-yard rusher since R.J. Vanhook reached that figure in 2004.
Harding’s last-chance drive ran out of time when Livingston tackled Zach Shelley in bounds on a third-and-15 play from the Bisons’ 28-yard line.
Akins’ game-changing touchdown return on Saturday recalled memories of the very first play from scrimmage for the Wonder Boys in their season opener on Sept. 3 at Southern Nazarene University.
On that evening, Arkansas Tech lined up with just 10 defenders for the first play of the game. They did so in memory of junior defensive lineman Zemaric Holt, who drowned in a swimming accident on July 19.
Southern Nazarene fumbled the football on that first play, and Akins was there to recover it for a touchdown. Just like he did on Saturday against Harding.
The Wonder Boys have carried Holt’s No. 90 jersey onto the field before every game in his memory. On Saturday night, they carried that jersey off the field in celebration of a win that none of them will ever forget.