Sep. 2—ARKADELPHIA, Ark. — After a fast start in the first quarter, the East Central University football team was unable to maintain the momentum, falling 41-13 to Henderson State University in the 2023 season opener Thursday night at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium.
The Tigers led 13-10 midway through the second quarter after a nice drive down the field but were then shut out 31-0 to end the game.
“It is a tough way to start, but there is a new opportunity tomorrow that we have to attack,” said interim head coach John Litrenta. “We have to be able to take the positives, build off them, and then learn from the negatives. All three phases must play complimentary football. This team will respond, and they understand what it takes.”
ECU drew first blood after junior quarterback, Traair Edwards, threw a 37-yard touchdown strike to C.J. Moore halfway through the first quarter. The touchdown capped a six-play, 64-yard drive that started at the Henderson 36-yard line following a Reddies botched field goal attempt.
Henderson answered back, scoring the next 10 points on a 22-yard field goal from Kolby King and a 5-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Andrew Edwards to Chris Hatzis to take their first lead of the night at the 14:51 mark of the opening period.
Trailing 10-7, Edwards connected to Jackson Allen for an 8-yard touchdown pass to put the Tigers back on top 13-10. That score capped a long 11-play, 84-yard march down the field that included three catches for 43 yards by Moore. He finished with six catches for a game-best 98 yards.
With the first half winding down, Henderson scored 14 unanswered points, including a 41-yard back-breaking touchdown pass from Edwards to a wide-open Elijah George, who had to make one ECU defender miss before walking into the end zone with 24 seconds on the clock. That put the Reddies ahead 24-13 at the break.
After King hit another field goal early in the third quarter, Edwards struck again, connecting with Hatzis on a 54-yard scoring strike that pushed the HSU advantage to 34-13 at the 2:24 mark of the third period. Edwards finished the game 17-of-25 through the air for 276 yards and four touchdowns.
The Reddies’ final score of the contest came when East Central receiver Kylin Mathis fumbled the ball and Henderson State defender Paul Manning scooped it up and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown with just 47 seconds left in the game.
ECU quarterback Traair Edwards threw for 196 yards, completing 19 of 27 attempts, with two touchdown passes while adding a team-best 54 yards rushing to pace the offense in his debut as a Tiger.
Dior Scott collected seven catches for 54 yards.
Devon Roush led the Tiger defense with 12 tackles, a sack, and forced a fumble. Darian Williams added seven stops.
Henderson finished with 400 yards of total offense while ECU totaled 293 yards in the game: 226 in the air and 67 on the ground.
The Tigers (0-1 GAC) are scheduled to host the Southern Arkansas Muleriders (1-0 GAC) for their home opener at Koi Ishto Stadium/Norris Field Thursday, Sept. 7, at 6 p.m. Southern Arkansas whipped Southeastern 34-19 in Week 1.
Note: Ada News Sports Editor Jeff Cali contributed to this report.