Harding seeks to turn season around after 0-2 league start

Updated: October 9, 2003, 7:28 PM ET

LITTLE ROCK -- Harding started the season brimming with confidence on the heels of a 9-2 mark in 2002.

The Bisons returned experience at every skill position on offense and they had seven starters back from the Gulf South Conference's third-rated defense.

A schedule that didn't include three-time league champion Valdosta State or state power Central Arkansas seemed suited for a title run.

However, Harding witnessed No. 11 North Alabama's return to form in a 38-3 loss in the Bisons' conference opener. A missed extra point and turnovers hurt in a 10-9 loss to Arkansas Tech a week later, all but ending the Bisons' hopes of winning the title.

"Any time you lose two in this league, there's not a great chance of winning the league," Harding coach Randy Tribble said. "We want to do the best we can and try to compete every week. We can still have a lot to play for and have a great year."

The Bisons (2-2, 1-2) started doing that last week when backup quarterback Adam Lybrand's 32-yard touchdown pass to Reid Smith gave them a 26-21 victory at West Alabama. Lybrand started for injured three-year starter Freddie Langston.

Harding hopes to extend that success this Saturday with a home game against West Georgia (2-3, 1-2).

"We're doing better now that we have a win," Tribble said. "There's nothing like winning for morale and everything. We're really proud of our offense for driving to get us a win."

In other Gulf South action this Saturday:

--Arkansas Tech (3-2, 2-1 Gulf South) faces Delta State (4-1, 2-1) after dropping its first league game on Henderson State's late field goal.

--Arkansas-Monticello (2-3, 1-2) takes a crack at No. 2 Valdosta State (5-0, 3-0).

--West Alabama (2-3, 1-2) tries to come back from a last-minute loss to Harding with a trip to Henderson State (3-2, 2-1).

--Ouachita Baptist (2-2, 1-2) faces its second ranked opponent on the road at North Alabama (5-0, 3-0).

--And after losing back-to-back games to Valdosta and North Alabama, Southern Arkansas (3-2, 1-2) looks to get back on track at Central Arkansas (2-3, 0-3).

Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2-4, 1-2 Southwestern Athletic Conference) will try to even its league record in its homecoming game against Texas Southern (2-3, 1-1).

The Golden Lions suffered their worst loss of the season last week against No. 18 Southern. UAPB trailed 40-0 before scoring its only touchdown midway through the third quarter of a 53-7 loss.

Southern outgained the Golden Lions 517-399, while UAPB committed six turnovers in the loss. Lenny Williams returned one of four interceptions 98 yards for a touchdown and a 28-0 lead.

Like Harding, Southern Arkansas entered this season optimistic about its chances to challenge for the league title, but the Muleriders have failed against top two teams.

A fumble near the goal line helped fuel a late surge by Valdosta in a 41-17 loss two weeks ago and then North Alabama took a 21-14 lead last week.

SAU led North Alabama 14-0 at halftime, but it couldn't stop the Lions in the second half. Will Hall completed 20 of 24 passes, including the game-winner with 1:13 remaining.

Now, the Muleriders have the task of keeping Central Arkansas from exploding. Since a 42-28 victory over UAPB, the Bears are 0-3 and they haven't scored more than 28 points.

UCA is the only Gulf South team without a win in conference.

Also like Harding, Henderson State bounced back from tough loss on freshman kicker Brian Mattox's 30-yard field goal with 20 seconds remaining against Arkansas Tech. The 16-13 victory allowed the Reddies to stay alive in the conference race

Henderson State and Arkansas Tech are the only two state schools with just one loss in conference.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index