Fans packed both sides of Frank McClellan Field Thursday night for what turned out to be an edge-of-your-seat contest between the Bears (8-2, 5-2) and Harding Academy's Wildcats (10-0,7-0 2-3A), which resulted in Harding's 38th consecutive conference win at 24-20.
The game started with a 4-yard drive by the Bears resulting in a punt, giving the Wildcats good field position at their 46. Following a drive of 54 yards the Wildcats were on the scoreboard first and led 7-0 after a successful extra point attempt.
While the Bears were only able to travel only two yards on the next drive - also resulting in a punt, the Bears were quick to regain possession when Laquarius Hall intercepted a Wildcat pass at 4:51 in the first quarter at the 11-yard line. The Bears got back in the contest at the 3:42 mark of the first quarter, tying the game at 7-7 after a 35 yard score by Quinton Simmons.
The Wildcats quickly turned the ball over yet again when Javier Rincon intercepted and returned it to the 15-yard line. With only a minute left in the quarter, Chajobie Fulcher ran the ball in from four yards out, giving the Bears a 13-7 lead over the visiting Wildcats.
The Wildcats found themselves within field goal range with 7:34 left in the half but Quentin Watson blocked the kick and returned it to the end zone giving the Bears a 20-7 lead following the extra point by Justin Wilson.
However that margin would soon disappear with 1:14 left in the half on a 6-yard Wildcat touchdown. Both teams regrouped at halftime with Barton leading Harding Academy, 20-14.
The Bears simply could not put any points on the board in the second half. Narrowing the gap with 1:27 left in the third quarter with the ball on the 8-yard line, the Wildcats put three more points up with a field goal.
It was anyone's game until Harding's Kohl Blickenstaff returned a loose ball with 4:42 left in the game from the 29-yard line for the night's final score.
Following the game, Coach Van Paschal told The Helena World, "I am really proud of our guys and the heart that they showed tonight...we had opportunities to win the ball game, there's no doubt about that, but we have to put that behind us and get ready for next week."
Barton will travel to Lamar to battle the Warriors in the opening round of the Class 3A football playoffs Friday night.