The road to the top spot of the 3A-6 conference needed to go Fordyce. Last Friday night, the Harmony Grove Hornets traveled to take on the Fordyce Redbugs for another heated edition of one the best small-school rivalries in the state.
The Hornets and the Redbugs engaged in a thrilling matchup in the 2021 season as it would be an even better matchup this season. The fourth quarter featured three lead changes and three touchdowns coming in the final two and a half minutes. Fordyce had the chance to either tie the game late or go for the win. The Redbugs pushed for the momentum to win it, but Hornets cornerback Javion Gill made a season-saving tackle to stop the two-point conversion to give Harmony Grove the 29-28 thrilling win.
The triple-option offense of the Redbugs early in the game was clicking while the Hornets' dual-threat offense struggled in the beginning. Fordyce got into the red zone in the first drive before the Hornets' defense forced a turnover on downs. The Hornets couldn't get a drive going as they had to punt on a three-and-out.
The Redbugs got on the board first on a six-play; 44-yard drive highlighted by a three-yard touchdown run from running back Brenton Sledge. The Hornets answered back on the following play from scrimmage on a 60-yard touchdown run from senior quarterback Caleb Johnson.
Fordyce took another long drive of nine plays of 80 yards to get the lead back with a 16-yard score from Sledge. Harmony Grove's offense continued to feel the pressure of the multiple blitzing schemes of Fordyce in the second quarter. Their three drives ended with two consecutive three-and-outs and an extended drive that ended with an interception by Johnson near the endzone.
In their first drive of the second half down 14-7, the Hornets mixed up the offensive schemes on the ground and in the air. Harmony Grove saw an eight-play drive fall short just before reaching the red zone.
On the following drive, the Hornets finally adjusted to the Redbugs' blitzes and biggest strengths. On the seventh play of the drive, Johnson found a huge opening on the outside for a 50-yard touchdown run. The extra point was good as the Hornets lowered the deficit 14-13 with 3:37 left in the third quarter.
After starting the game in rough shape, Harmony Grove's defense found ways to crowd the line of scrimmage and close off running lanes to the outside. The Hornets stopped the Redbugs' offense in four short plays.
Going into the wild fourth quarter, it was the Hornets that had the momentum. The Hornets found ways to mix it up with a solid running and passing game. Harmony Grove took a seven-play; 71-yard drive to take the lead for the first time in the game with a 28-yard score from Johnson to junior wide receiver Tristan Herndon. The two-point conversion extended the Hornets' lead to 21-14 with 9:37 left in the game.
With their backs against the wall for the first time in the game, the Redbugs' offense looked to create a long scoring drive to kill several minutes off the clock. Fordyce found success in running the ball to the outside to force Harmony Grove to stretch out. The Redbugs took a 16-play; 94-yard drive that resulted in a trick play toss from Sledge to Jamartez Stroud on a four-yard play. The two-point conversion from fullback Malik Harden put the Redbugs up 22-21 with 2:03 left in the game.
It was now the Hornets' backs against the wall with two minutes to score. After a three-yard run from Johnson and a defensive penalty, Johnson found senior wide receiver Harry Nix for a solid 12-yard play. On the following play, Johnson found Nix deep in a tough contended coverage for a stellar 34-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion run from running back Damariyon Billingly was good to put the Hornets up 29-22 with 1:19 left in the game.
The Hornets' defense was prepared for a fast-paced Redbugs' offense through the air and on the ground. On the first play of the drive, the Redbugs ran a play-action pass that caused the secondary, including Javion Gill to crash in causing Stroud to separate himself deep for quarterback Kobe Cunningham to deliver an 80-yard touchdown.
The Redbugs decided to go for the lead with 67 seconds left in the game and than tie it up. Fordyce called for an easy play of an off-tackle run from Harden, a 6-1; 250 pound runner to cross the goal line. A determined and rage-filled Gill, 5-11; 160-pound defensive back would anticipate the run and make the tackle short off the goal line.
Down by one point, the Redbugs would attempt an onside kick, but would go out of bounds. It only took two quarterback kneels from Johnson to seal the thrilling win for the Hornets.
The Hornets accumulated 280 total yards accounted for with 152 coming from the ground. Caleb Johnson faced a lot of pressure from the Redbugs' highly aggressive defense, but he found the right windows in the passing game at clutch moments. Johnson completed 6-of-16 of his passes for 128 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
Wide receiver Harry Nix caught two receptions for 46 yards and a touchdown in the final critical drive. Running back Damariyon Billingly rushed for 53 yards on eight carries while accounting for seven total tackles on defense. Senior defensive end Christian Barnes accounted for six total tackles and two tackles for loss.