A sketchbook history of the Bryant-Benton football rivalry

By Rob Patrick

In 1974, the nine largest schools in Arkansas were grouped together in the AAAA classification. They had no football playoff. The conference champion was the State AAAA champ.

The next 19 schools made up Class AAA. They had a State playoff that included the champions of each of the three conferences plus a wild card, the second place team with the best record.

Class AA that year included the next 57 schools in eight conferences. Only the conference winners made the playoffs.

Of course, it doesn’t take much more than a glance at the current classifications and conferences to realize the changes that have occurred since then.[more]

That 1974 season marked the first meeting of Benton and Bryant on the gridiron. On its way to an 8-3 record, Class AAA Benton had eased to a 28-0 win over the Class AA Hornets who were on their way to a 3-7 season.

Benton and Bryant continued the series and, as the larger school, Benton continued to dominate. The largest classification, still with nine teams and no playoffs became the AAAAA. Benton won the Class AAAA State championship in 1977 with the playoffs still in a four-team format.

The next year, Bryant managed its first win over the Panthers, 3-0. Benton suffered back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1967-68 but still managed to avenge that loss in 1979, 21-0.

But the Bryant school district had begun to grow and when reclassification occurred in 1981, the Hornets joined Class AAAA, with the rival Panthers, Watson Chapel, El Dorado, Texarkana and Hot Springs in the AAAA-South.

Up to that point, the Benton-Bryant game had been the third game of the season, pretty much just another non-conference contest.

But when they became conference rivals, the game was switched to the last week of the season. And, during that span of time, there were many years that the game provided one of the teams a chance to salvage a rugged season.

Occasionally, they tangled with a playoff berth on the line, particularly after the playoffs were expanded.

Initially, that happened in 1983 when the top classification with its nine teams was combined with the next level to form the 30-school Class AAAA. Three teams from each of the five conferences advanced to the playoffs.

In a thriller to finish the season for both teams, Benton outlasted Bryant 29-20 but, as the margin might indicate, the Hornets had closed the gap and, in fact, won the next two seasons finishing ahead of the Panthers in the conference standings for the first time in 1984 then making the playoffs for the first time ever by virtue of their 14-7 win over Benton in '85.

Former Bryant coach Dwight Fite was the new head coach at Benton that year and it was the last time the Panthers lost to the Hornets during his tenure.

The two teams played for a playoff spot in 1986 and Benton gained it with a 12-0 victory.

While Benton thrived in football over the next several years, Bryant fell on hard times but it continued to gradually grow.

A turn began in 1995 when the Hornets managed a 5-5 season. Benton slumped to 2-8 that year but denied the Hornets a playoff berth with a 12-7 win.

The two teams seemed about equal in talent over the next few years. In fact, in ’96 and ’97 Bryant appeared to have a better team. But Benton kept winning.

Even though the Panthers prevailed 17-14 in 1998, the tide appeared to have turned as Bryant alum Daryl Patton took over the Hornets program from David Jordan who helped lay the foundation for a better program.

And with the landmark 1999 season, Bryant not only went undefeated, it recorded its most one-sided win over the Panthers with fans hanging from the rooftops surrounding C.W. Lewis Stadium. It started a run in which the Hornets have won seven of 10 meetings with a tie.

The Bryant High School enrollment, by that time, had surpassed Benton’s. The gap continued to grow but the rivals continued to compete in the South Conference until the 2002 season brought a change. Bryant was moved to the Central conference to make room for Watson Chapel in the South. That’s when the two teams moved their game to the first of the season. 

And, in 2006, after another shuffling of the classifications and the creation of Class 7A with the 16 largest schools, the rivals were, as they had been in the beginning, in separate classifications. But it was Bryant in the larger grouping. The Hornets, under head coach Paul Calley who took over in 2003, have won all three meetings since.



KICKOFF: 7:30 p.m.

SITE: War Memorial Stadium, Little Rock

2008 RECORDS: Bryant 8-4, Benton 2-8

SERIES: Benton leads 24-11-1 since 1974


2008, Bryant 36, Benton 12 (Salt Bowl 9)

2007, Bryant 25, Benton 7 (Salt Bowl 8)

2006, Bryant 20, Benton 7 (Salt Bowl 7)

2005, Benton 35, Bryant 28 (playoffs)

2005, Benton 14, Bryant 7 (Salt Bowl 6)

2004, Bryant 10, Benton 2 (Salt Bowl 5)

2003, Bryant 34, Benton 34 (Salt Bowl 4)

2002, Bryant 16, Benton 13 (Salt Bowl 3)

2001, Bryant 28, Benton 23 (Salt Bowl 2)

2000, Bryant 44, Benton 17 (Salt Bowl 1)

1999, Bryant 42, Benton 7

1998, Benton 17, Bryant 14

1997, Benton 14, Bryant 10

1996, Benton 14, Bryant 0

1995, Benton 12, Bryant 7

1994, Benton 35, Bryant 12

1993, Benton 48, Bryant 14

1992, Benton 32, Bryant 7

1991, Benton 10, Bryant 0

1990, Benton 36, Bryant 0

1989, Benton 21, Bryant 0

1988, Benton 21, Bryant 7

1987, Benton 35, Bryant 7

1986, Benton 12, Bryant 0

1985, Bryant 14, Benton 7

1984, Bryant 32, Benton 17

1983, Benton 29, Bryant 20

1982, Benton 30, Bryant 10

1981, Benton 17, Bryant 0

1980, Benton 28, Bryant 7

1979, Benton 21, Bryant 0

1978, Bryant 3, Benton 0

1977, Benton 42, Bryant 0

1976, Benton 28, Bryant 7

1975, Benton 10, Bryant 0

1974, Benton 28, Bryant 0

1 comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

error: Content is protected !!