Inexperienced Hornets get first taste of “big time”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, BryantDaily.com will continueposting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By ROB PATRICK
RUSSELLVILLE — Now they know.
No amount of junior varsity games or junior high games or even practice against talented teammates fully prepares a high school football player for the speed, aggressiveness and force of a varsity game, particularly a varsity game against one of the deepest and most talented teams in the state.
So, when the Bryant Hornets, with no more than a handful of players that had experienced that varsity action, scrimmaged against the Fayetteville Bulldogs at Arkansas Tech University’s Buerkle Stadium on Monday, Aug. 22, they learned plenty.
Fayetteville, led by former Bryant coach Daryl Patton, started last spring with over 180 players. Over the summer, that number was trimmed to 120 or so. The Bulldogs are big, deep, fast and come with a pedigree that includes college coaches’ sons (Brad Wittke, Houston Nutt III, Christian Allen) and relatives of former professionals (Bryan Eckwood, Weston Harbaugh). The Bulldogs had 19 football players move in to Fayetteville for this season, such is the growth of the northwest part of the state.
It they were a member, Fayetteville’s Bulldogs might be the championship favorite in Bryant’s league, the AAAAA-Central Conference.
“We got a taste of the big time,” acknowledged Bryant head coach Paul Calley. “Fayetteville had some great-looking athletes. But it’s always that way. The opposing team is always more physically imposing than we are.”
The encouraging thing for Bryant was that while the two teams were both playing their first-teamers, they were about even on the scoreboard. Turnovers, one of which cost Bryant a touchdown and another that led to a Fayetteville score, were the difference as Fayetteville built a 19-7 lead in a half of scrimmaging. The Bulldogs’ depth of talent took over as the two teams substituted amply in the second half, adding a pair of scores around another Bryant touchdown drive, led by junior quarterback Matt Schrader, for a meaningless 32-14 final score.
The Hornets scored first in the game, which included punts but no runbacks, no kickoffs and no contact on field goals and extra points. On the third play of the game, Bryant quarterback Anthony Mask and senior wideout Jon Isbell burned Fayetteville’s top cover corner Chris Walton for a 69-yard touchdown pass. Jordan Knight kicked the extra point.
Mask, one of those experienced few, completed his first four passes of the scrimmage and nine of his first 10. He wound up 12 of 21 for 174 yards in the half. Isbell caught six passes for 95 yards.
After the two teams traded punts, Fayetteville, behind junior quarterback Dallas McCutcheon and speedy running back Renardo Mahone, drove for a tying score. Mahone’s 22-yard sprint capped the drive.
Bryant came right back, however, and, on a third-and-8 at the Fayetteville 49, junior wide receiver Joey Winiecki made a splendid catch and broke clear down the left sideline. But when Winiecki tried to switch the ball to his outside hand to protect it from the pursuit as he got inside the 10, the ball came loose and Fayetteville recovered it.
So, it stayed 7-7 most of the rest of the half. Fayetteville drove to the Bryant 23 but an interception by defensive end Nathan Probst ended the drive.
In turn, Bryant was on the march again, reaching the Fayetteville 30 but an illegal block cost them 15 yards and, on the next play, a deep pass down the middle was intercepted.
The Bulldogs’ next offensive series was thwarted when Bryant linebacker Dustin Seljan recovered a fumble at midfield. From there, senior running back Zack Kellum (five carries, 30 yards in the scrimmage) bolted to the Fayetteville 42 but two incompletions later, the Hornets were forced to punt.
The Bryant defense then seemed to wear down a bit as they battled the bigger Bulldogs. Fayetteville drove from its own 14 to the Bryant 14 where Schrader, who starts a corner for the Hornets, just missed making an interception. A play later, Nutt tossed a touchdown pass to Gionni Harris to make it 13-7.
The two teams traded punts with Bryant getting the better end of the field position, taking over at its own 47 with less than three minutes left in the half. Mask and Dustin Holland connected on a pass to the Fayetteville 43. Two plays later, Mask and Winiecki connected for 7 yards but when he was thrown down, Winiecki suffered a separated shoulder and lost the ball.
Fayetteville, taking over with 1:56 left in the half, drove for another score, getting in the end zone on a hook-and-lateral type of play from 16 yards out with :11 left.
“We’re not in shape,” commented Calley. “We didn’t always recognize some things on the defensive side of the ball, things we’ve seen in practice.”
There again, noted the coach, seeing it in practice is not quite the same as seeing it in a game against hostiles.
“I was disappointed in the broke tackles,” he added. “And we didn’t take good pursuit angles.”
The turnovers were a concern for the coach. “You’re not going to beat a team like Fayetteville or Benton dropping passes and making mistakes, putting the ball on the ground,” he said, referring to Bryant’s opening opponent on Tuesday, Aug. 30.
“But like I told them, you make your biggest improvement between the first game and the second and, hopefully, they’ll realize that the speed of the game is going to change (from practice),” Calley summarized. “We got to see a good football team tonight and we’re going to see another good football team in Benton. We’re going to have to have exceptional effort, no mistakes and better recognition. But that just comes from experience.”
Calley was pleased that Mask was well protected despite Fayetteville’s use of blitzes.
“They didn’t do bad,” he said. “At times, we were tentative and didn’t attack.”
The Hornets went to their second string more and more in the second half. Fayetteville, however, stayed with their starters a little longer. McCutcheon led the Bulldogs on a touchdown drive midway through the third quarter.
In turn, however, Schrader and the second offense for the Hornets put together a 70-yard march in 13 plays. The junior was 5 of 7 through the air on the drive including an 18-yard strike to sophomore Raylen Cantrell and a 30-yard connection with soph Jake Jackson. He also had a nice 13 yards scramble early in the possession. Jackson got the touchdown from the 2.
Later in the scrimmage, sophomore quarterback Logan Parker was able to get in for a couple of series.