ARKADELPHIA — In need of a flurry, Henderson State University turned to wide receiver L’liott Curry.
Curry, a junior transfer from Central Oklahoma, didn’t make all the big plays during a 24-point fourth quarter that lifted the Reddies to a 38-31 victory over Southern Arkansas University at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium.
But it was Curry’s final catch of the game, a highlight-reel grab over the head of SAU defender Brock Floyd on second and 8 from the SAU 31, that set up the Reddies with first and goal at the SAU 6 with 40 seconds to play.
Senior running back Logan Moragne (11-58 rushing, 2 TDs) scored two plays later on a 3-yard run with 29 seconds to play to give Henderson the lead for good.
“Coaches came up with the play,” Curry said. “We were running corner routes, and we switched it up at the last second and we ran a post. The quarterback put it right where it needed to be. I mean, I just got faith in my quarterback that he’s going to get it there. Man, I just went up and made a play.”
SAU (7-3, 7-3 GAC) got the ball back for a chance to tie, but quarterback Hayden Mallory (26-of-40 passing, 309 yards, 2 TDs) threw his third interception of the fourth quarter on a Hail Mary attempt from midfield on the game’s final play.
Curry (8-126 receiving, 1 TD) is one of the big reasons Henderson State (9-1, 9-1 GAC) will enter Saturday’s Battle of the Ravine against Ouachita Baptist University with a chance to create a two- or three-way tie atop the Great American Conference and earn its first Division II playoff berth since 2015.
Curry’s 74 catches for 1,019 yards and 13 touchdowns have not only lifted Henderson State’s offense a notch, but SAU Coach Bill Keopple said that the 6-2, 215-pounds Curry creates a multitude of problems for opposing defenses even when he’s not catching the ball.
“He’s a special player,” Keopple said. “He’s a difference-maker, and he’s made a big difference for them, especially this year. A little bit of why their record is where they’re at is that a guy like that can make a big difference for you. It puts a whole different emphasis on a defense.”
Curry’s presence affected SAU’s game plan, which was to control the ball and limit the number of possessions.
Henderson State led 14-10 at halftime, but Southern Arkansas possessed the ball for 14:09 of the game’s first 21 minutes, running 27 plays for 158 yards.
SAU scored on a 26-yard field goal by Austin Wilkerson and a 3-yard run by OB Jones to lead 10-7 with 9:52 to go in the half.
Henderson State went into halftime up 14-10 after Curry’s 14-yard touchdown reception with 7:07 to play in the half, one of only two catches by Curry in the first 30 minutes.
SAU kept control and took a 17-14 lead on Dekendrick Bender’s 15-yard touchdown reception from Mallory with 3:15 to play in the third quarter.
That’s when Curry and quarterback Richard Stammetti (24-of-39 passing, 292 yards, 2 TDs) went to work.
Curry caught three passes for 51 yards on Henderson’s next touchdown drive, which ended with Moragne’s 2-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter to give Henderson a 21-17 lead.
Southern Arkansas answered with an 8-play, 74-yard drive to regain the lead at 24-21 on Kor’Davion Washington’s 5-yard run.
Henderson State got a big break on SAU’s ensuing possession when Colby Turner intercepted a twice-tipped pass intended for tight end Michael Ingram at the SAU 43.
Querale Hall’s 33-yard touchdown run with 8:50 to play completed a two-play drive and gave the Reddies a 28-24 edge.
Henderson went up 31-24 on Temo Martinez’s 21-yard field goal at the 6:57 mark, but it was a momentum-shifting stand for SAU. The Muleriders held the Reddies to a field goal after Rickey Henderson’s 48-yard interception of an underthrown Mallory pass gave Henderson first and goal at the SAU 8.
“We needed to score a touchdown right there,” Henderson Coach Scott Maxfield said.
When the Reddies settled for a field goal, the Muleriders drove 81 yards in 11 plays, tying the game on Mallory’s 10-yard pass to Jones with 2:53 to play in the fourth quarter.
“We were battling every way we know how to battle,” Keopple said.
“It was a track meet there a little bit,” Maxfield said. “We withstood it and made some plays there at the end.”
The plays made by Curry did not go unnoticed.
“He likes the show lights,” said Henderson State tight end Ayden Shurley, who caught a 5-yard touchdown pass in the first half. “He makes plays. It was ridiculous. It’s like a man playing with the boys. He’s out there manhandling folks.”
Curry said he is grateful for the confidence Henderson’s coaches have in him, but he is not surprised by his success.
“I’ve been putting in this work since I was a little kid,” Curry said. “All I needed was a platform and an opportunity to showcase the skills that I’ve got. I’m just grateful that the coaches have given me this platform.”
Sports on 11/10/2019