NEW HAVEN — Harding had never won a Southern Connecticut Conference football game at Bowen Field.
Until Friday afternoon.
The Presidents, in just their third year as a member of the SCC, dominated Hillhouse, 36-12, for their second win in three seasons against Academics.
“This was a huge win for us since we were 1-2 coming in,” Harding coach Eddie Santiago said. “It shows we can play SCC football and we’re proud of that.”
The Presidents took advantage of a number of Hillhouse mistakes throughout the afternoon with the first one helping Harding score early.
After Hillhouse stopped a Harding drive deep in Academics’ territory, a bad snap on a fourth down punt situation gave the Presidents the ball at the 6-yard line. Two plays later, Darnell Benoit scooted into the end zone. A pass from Nazjhir Curry (8-for-16 passing for 172 yards) to Orville Heron Jr. made it 8-0.
After Hillhouse couldn’t convert in the red zone a couple of times, two passes from Curry to big 6-foot-3 receiver Marcell Robinson were the key plays as Curry hit Robinson with a 28-yard touchdown pass with 7 minutes remaining in the second quarter.
Curry converted the two-point conversion with a two-yard run to make it 16-0.
“We knew we wanted to put ball in the air,” Santiago said. “We wanted to get Robinson going today with the fade ball and posts and get on the scoreboard early.”
Hillhouse finally got on the board with just 47 seconds to go in the opening half when Tre ronn Bryant bulldozed in from a yard out to close it to 16-6.
Harding, however, got a great kick return from Nasir Gibbs to the Hillhouse 26. On the final play of the first half, Curry ran a yard for the touchdown. Curry then added the Presidents’ third successful two-point conversion of the first half to make it 24-6 at the break.
Hillhouse closed it to 24-12 halfway through the third quarter as quarterback Demelle Turner (7-for-14 for 73 yards) connected with Turone Kelley in the left corner of the end zone to pull the Academics as close as they would get the rest of the afternoon.
Curry hit Dante Nunez with a 22-yard touchdown pass in the left corner and Gibbs rushed nine yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to close out the scoring.
“We were able to push the ball on offense and usually we have a hard time doing that,” Robinson said. “This is the best game we had throwing the ball.”
Meanwhile, Hillhouse fell to 0-4.
Part of it came thanks to a brutal early season schedule where its first three opponents had compiled an 11-1 mark, including unbeatens sixth-ranked Bloomfield and Weston plus one-loss Cheshire.
But the Academics continued their season long struggle to score, especially in the red zone.
“We came out flat and Harding just jumped on us,” Hillhouse coach Reggie Lytle said. “We never got it together. We’d get in the red zone and get stuck, which has been our story all season.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Nazjhir Curry: Harding quarterback threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another. He also had a pair of two-point conversion runs.
“This was big for our program. We have to keep pushing forward to try and get to the playoffs.”
— Harding wide receiver Marcell Robinson.