By Ben Johnson
CNHI News Service
Kyler Harris was inserted into Northeastern State’s starting lineup as a sophomore in 2012. He didn’t waste any time in having an impact.
The 6-foot, 180-pound strong safety had seven tackles and an interception in the RiverHawks’ opening game against Pittsburg State last season.
Following that is when the former Muskogee standout’s season took a turn for the worse. Against Missouri Southern, NSU’s second game of the season, Harris re-injured the same right leg that caused him to miss his senior year of high school.
“There was a cyst that had formed in my right tibia, and it apparently hollowed out my tibia. So that bone was like like an egg shell waiting to break,” Harris said. “I’ve had surgery on this leg before, and (doctors) think it may of come from that. So when I made a cut, the bone finally gave.
“They had to go in and cut the bone open and fill it with artificial bone until it solidified.”
Harris ended up missing out on the RiverHawks’ remaining trek during their inaugural season in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association.
On Saturday in NSU’s annual Green and White spring game, Harris returned and electrified the crowd with his 98-yard interception return for a touchdown. Harris was also instrumental in the Green team pitching a shutout in a 29-0 rout.
“Those guys jumped out (to me),” NSU head coach Kenny Evans said of Harris and linebacker, Langston Jones, who had a fumble recovery in the first quarter. “...Hopefully this will lead to some good things in the fall.”
Harris’ interception return added to the Green’s 7-0 lead. The Green’s first score came on its third possession, which began with Jones’ fumble recovery at the White’s 16-yard line and ended with Johnny Deaton’s 2-yard touchdown pass to fullback Nate Ross to end the first quarter.
Then, as the White was poised to put points on the scoreboard on its second possession of the second period, Harris picked off Corey Meadors’ pass and outraced every member of the White team for the score.
“That felt great,” Harris said. “It was kind of like a crescendo to the build-up out here. Everybody played well, and I’m just happy to do what I can for the team.”
Drew Patton would tack on a 24-yard field goal in the second quarter, and the Green would lead 16-0 at halftime.
The second half was about wrapping things up healthy more than anything else. That was the RiverHawks’ attitude after two quarterbacks — the Green’s Josh Cousins and the White’s Thor Long — went down with injuries in the first half.
According to Evans, Long bruised his shoulder trying to recover a fumble, and Cousins also suffered a shoulder-related injury after being tackled by James Renfrow in the second quarter.
“They have to learn how to play without redshirts on like they have in practice. They have to learn to avoid things and get down at times,” Evans said. “That’s part of the learning process at quarterback, and they haven’t had many opportunities to do that.”
Evans predicted that both would be fine before players started reporting for fall camp in early August.
The two signal-caller injuries lended itself to more rushing plays in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter. For the Green, Ashdon Perry led the way on the ground with four rushes for 37 yards (all on one drive). Zack Simmons chipped in with eight carries for 31 yards.
The White used a heavy dose of Joel Rockmore and Terrence Dixon in the second half with Meadors, a walk-on, at quarterback. Both Rockmore and Dixon rushed 15 times, with Rockmore recording 65 yards on the ground. Dixon had 63.
For the Green, Deaton finished the game 9 of 18 for 122 yards and no interceptions. He also threw for three scores — to Ross, a 13-yarder to Cruz Williams in the third quarter and a 2-yard pass to tight end, Kyle Matheson, in the fourth quarter.
Wagoner ex Prince McJunkins, playing for the Green, led all receivers with 76 yards on four receptions.
“I thought all the receivers played very well, and Prince McJunkins definitely stood out,” Evans said. “All three of our returning running backs had a great day. We’re really pleased with where we’re at.”
So is Harris, who is grateful to be back on the field.
“It feels great,” he said. “It took a while, but you have to wait on injuries like that.”
NSU GREEN 29, NSU WHITE 0
White 0 0 0 0 -- 0
Green 7 9 7 7 -- 29
GREEN — Nate Ross 2-yard pass from Johnny Deaton (Drew Patton kick), 0:00.
GREEN — Kyler Harris 98-yard interception return (conversion failed), 0:56.
GREEN — Patton 24-yard field goal, 0:00.
GREEN — Cruz Williams 13-yard pass from Deaton (Patton kick), 6:17.
GREEN — Kyle Matheson 2-yard pass from Deaton (conversion failed), 8:01.