Hornet frosh answer Searcy rally for last-minute win
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
SEARCY — Jimi Easterling kept his head, Brandon Parish kept his eyes on the ball and both of them kept their feet long enough to complete a scintillating 21-yard touchdown pass with under a minute left to play, propelling the Bryant Hornets freshman football team to a thrilling 18-13 victory over the Searcy Lion Cubs in the season-opener for both teams Thursday, Aug. 31.
Searcy made a bid at its own comeback after that with a desperation 24-yard pass to convert a fourth-and-17 with :15.7 left but Bryant’s Chris Arnold intercepted a final aerial at the 10-yard line on the next play to seal the win.
The Hornets, who had dominated much of the game only to repeatedly squander scoring opportunities, found themselves trailing for the first time,13-12, when Searcy scored with 2:35 left in the game.
The Hornets’ game-winning drive began with a solid return of a short kickoff by Jacob Dorrell that allowed them to set up offensively at their own 44. A quick pass from Easterling to Parish netted 4 yards. A play later, running back Brennan Bullock converted a third-and-6 with an 8-yard blast to the Searcy 44.
After Easterling kept for 6 more yards, both teams endured an emotional rollercoaster on one play. First, Bryant was down when the snap to Easterling who was in shotgun formation, rolled back to him. But he coolly snapped it up and began to scramble. Then, Searcy took a dip. With the ball on the ground all of the Lions charged toward it so when Easterling recovered and looked downfield he had two receivers well behind the defense and he lofted a pass that way. But it was the Hornets’ turn to descend when the pass which looked like a sure-fire go-ahead touchdown was dropped with the receiver a little too anxious to get on his way to the end zone.
But, as they had all evening, the Hornets refused to let the adversity get them down. On the very next play, Brady Butler, who had dropped the previous pass, made a clutch grab to 17 yards to keep the drive alive, converting a third down at the 21.
With about a minute left and timeouts left, the Hornets tried to spring Bullock but he was stopped for no gain. On the next play, Easterling scrambled to his left and fired into the end zone where it appeared Parish was covered pretty well by Searcy’s Jared Harriman. Both players went up for the ball and got a hand on it. It deflected up in the air but Harriman fell to the ground and Parish, staying up, snatched it out of midair for the TD.
“I didn’t even see it,” declared Bryant head coach Jason Hay. “All I could see was (the official signal) ‘touchdown.’”
“We got it done when we had to,” he continued. “I could see their faces after we were wide open and dropped it. And I was really wondering how we’d react to that.”
Searcy took over after the ensuing kickoff at its own 42 with :37 left. Two incomplete passes and a sack of quarterback Matt Ingle by Tyler Groves appeared to have the Lion Cubs done in. But the fourth-down completion gave them life for a few more seconds until Arnold’s oskie.
The Hornets might’ve had a three-touchdown advantage at halftime but it was just 6-0. Their first opportunity to score came after a muffed punt that Hunter Alford recovered at the Searcy 32. On the way to driving to the 4, Easterling converted a pair of fourth downs with runs of 3 and 8 yards. Bullock, who would rush for 82 yards on 17 carries despite a cast on his broken right wrist, added runs of 7 and 8 yards along they way. But on a second-and-goal at the 4, Bullock had the ball knocked from his left hand and Searcy recovered at the 5.
Unable to manage a first down when, on a third-and-4 play, Whit Pruitt, Stanley Oxner and Groves dropped fullback Matt Robinson for a loss, Searcy punted back to the Hornets who took over at the Cubs’ 32. Bullock’s runs of 8 and 7 yards and a 7-yard completion from Easterling to Cody Brady had Bryant to the 10 but, on a third-and-3, a bad snap sabotaged the drive. A fourth-down pass to Butler came up a yard short of earning the Hornets a new set of downs.
But the defense got it right back. Robinson was pounded and the ball was jarred loose. Blake Heil recovered for the Hornets at the 7 and, from there, Bullock bulled into the end zone for the game’s first score with 5:59 left in the half. A try for two failed.
The Hornets forced another punt and a 19-yard return by Arnold put them back into Searcy territory with 4:18 left in the half. A 15-yard completion to Brady converted a third-and-14 from the 48. Moments later, Arnold dashed 13 yards to convert a third-and-5, taking the ball to the 15. Bullock got 6 more to the 9 but, on the next play, again had the ball knocked free and Searcy recovered at the 9 with 1:18 left in the half.
The Cubs, taking advantage of Bryant’s prevent defense, completed a trio of passes to get to midfield before the half was over but Ingle was sacked by Joey Melhorn to end the threat.
“It should’ve been over at half,” Hay acknowledged. “We kept letting them back in. Offensively, we had some real good moments but we’d fumble or threw a pick or drop a pass or had a penalty. We must’ve dropped half a dozen passes. Defensively, we looked real good. The defense won the game. But we’ve got to get better. A win’s a win, though, I don’t care if it’s 2-0. We’ll take it.”
The Hornets forced a Searcy punt to start the second half and took over at the Cubs’ 47. Easterling hit Parish for 11 yards then Bullock rumbled for 14 then 10 yards to the 14. Arnold, however, was dropped for a 4-yard loss and it looked like the drive might stall again. But Easterling and Parish combined on an 18-yard pass for the touchdown to make it 12-0.
Aided by a late-hit penalty that negated much of Trey Sowell’s sack of Ingle, Searcy drove for its first score, The key play was a 14 yard pass that converted a third-and-12 from the Bryant 33. A play later, Ingle completed a 16-yard pass to Logan Garland who was knocked out at the 2, setting up Ingle’s keeper for the score on the first play of the fourth quarter. The point-after kick made it 12-7.
Arnold almost broke the ensuing kickoff, bringing it back from the 17 to the 48. The Hornets got to the 36 but bogged down and Bullock had to punt.
Searcy drove 67 yards in six plays to take the lead. A 27-yard pass from Ingle to Garland got the Cubs to the Bryant 35 but, Heil dropped Ingle for loss then a bad snap and an incomplete pass made it fourth-and-17. Ingle passed 21 yards to Will Lynn kept the drive alive and, on the next play, Ingle and Garland connected for the go-ahead touchdown.
The night proved to be a sweep for Bryant teams. Playing split for the first time, both Bryant and Bethel eighth grade teams won. At Searcy, Bryant Middle School (Bryant White) defeated Searcy 16-7. Back at home, Bryant Bethel (Bryant Blue) beat North Little Rock Ridge Road, 20-0.
The Hornets freshman were set to continue their road trip with their second of three in a row, visiting Russellville East on Thursday, Sept. 7. They open South Division play in the Central Arkansas Conference at Lake Hamilton on Thursday, Sept. 14.