By Rob Patrick
The Bryant Hornets freshman team acted fired up when it hit the field prior to their game against[more] the Little Rock Central Tigers frosh on Thursday night but, after a disputed call cost them a touchdown, they played fired up on the way to a well-earned 24-6 win at Bryant Stadium.
With the Hornets trailing 6-0, they drove from their own 38 to the Central 8. Savonte Turner, on his way to 140 yards on the ground, wove his way through the Tigers defense and to the goal line where it appeared he scored. The ball came loose, however, and Central pounced on it.
Though it looked like Turner had crossed the goal line before losing the ball — thus making it a touchdown — the officials ruled that it came out before he got there and the Tigers were awarded possession on a touchback.
Bryant’s coaching staff, led by head coach Kenny Horn, vehemently protested the call to no avail but the play served to light a fire under the team.
On their opening possession, the Tigers rushed for 27 yards and completed a pass for another 18. The rest of the game, they would net just 20 more yards. That was a big reason the Hornets prevailed despite being denied that first touchdown and, after that, suffering five turnovers.
“They got fired up,” Horn acknowledged. “I was glad to see that. We had a little spirit, a little fight in us. That was a good thing.”
Asked if his team got a raw deal on the fumble, Horn commented, “Raw deal or not, they called it like they saw it. We just had to overcome that stuff. Maybe it was good for us later on. It put us in a bind a little bit. We showed up right there and played.”
Turner would get a touchdown later and the Hornets scored in the final seconds of the half on a tackle-eligible pass play from Gunnar Burks to right tackle Demaja Price to take command of the game. And when they tacked on another score on a 11 yard run by Drew Alpe midway through the third quarter, the final score was on the board.
The defense made it stand.
While Central wound up with just 65 yards of total offense, the Hornets piled up 243 with 213 of that coming on the ground. The offensive line for Bryant blew gaping holes in the Tigers’ defense on a consistent basis, allowing Turner and Burks to slash, bob and weave for chunks of yardage.
“Those guys, we’re kind of light except in a couple of spots but, you know, they get after it,” Horn said of the front five. “They keep their feet. I caught one of our guys blocking 12 yards down the field, had his guy 12 yards down the field, and just ran him out of bounds. I credit those guys every night. Cameron Murray, Demaja Price, Zach Jackson, Jake Hall and Peyton Robertson — those guys work hard. Nobody ever says much about the offensive line but our guys, they may mess up now and then, but they’re going to fight. Coach (Kirk) Bock does a good job with that.”
Earlier in the season, Horn and his assistants, Bock, Travis Queck and John Orr, developed a concern that the team wasn’t physical enough but they have since become much more so.
“We kind of revamped our practice a little bit after we started talking about that,” Horn said. “I’m going to credit Coach Bock, Coach Queck and Coach Orr with that. They came up with the idea of what we wanted to do with those guys and it really started with those offensive linemen. And it’s carried over to the defense. We’re playing a lot more physical than we have in the past and I’m proud.
“That just means our guys are getting better and that’s the goal of our program to get our guys better, to get them better for Friday nights,” he explained, “and I think they’re doing that.”
The win keeps Bryant atop the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference, tied with Benton and Cabot South. The Hornets host Conway Blue next Thursday, then close out the season at Benton on Tuesday, Oct. 30.
Central’s opening drive featured two third-down conversions. The first came on a 10-yard run by Cavan Polite. The second came on the 18-yard pass from Jordan McCarthur to Terray Truitt that got the ball to the 13.
It would prove to be the lone pass completion of the game for the Tigers.
Truitt powered to the 1 yard line then scored on the next play but a 2-point run was stopped.
Turner contributed runs of 14 and 19 yards during Bryant’s opening march, which ended with the controversial turnover.
The Bryant defense responded by forcing a three-and-out. Punted (and penalized) back to their own 39, the Hornets’ offense revved it up again. Burks supplied a 17-yard keeper. A play later, Turner reached the 7. He scored from there on the next snap.
As usual, the Hornets lined up in the venerable old swinging gate formation on the conversion. Burks took the side-saddle snap, rolled to his right, drew the defense, pitched to Jaelyn Jones and, when the defense started towards him, Jones tossed to Nick Hardin to complete the play, making it 8-6.
Using a bruising running game, Central answered with a drive to the Bryant 49 where, on a second-down play, defensive end Kameron Guillory tracked down Truitt for a loss of 17.
On third down, Truitt got the call again and Hall got to him but only enough to grab a handful of shirt-tail. With the Truitt, with a size advantage, trying to break free, Hall who went to the ground but held tight, continued to hang on while keeping Truitt from advancing before help finally arrived, resulting in a 5-yard loss and a punting situation.
“They were bigger and I think they were stronger than us,” Horn said of the Tigers. “One of our kids (Hall) hung on out here for 12 seconds by himself, looked like a rodeo clown out there.
“It was a hard win,” he added. “Those guys are pretty good. They’ve got some talent and their kids play extremely hard.”
The Tigers' offense wasn’t off the field long as they covered a muffed punt. A play later, however, linebacker Devon Alpe snatched a deflected pass out of the air and returned it to the Central 25 with just :22 left in the half.
Burks quickly found Liam Miller for 14 yards to the 11 and, after spiking the ball to stop the clock (the Hornets were out of timeouts), they worked the tackle-eligible. Burks found Price in the back of the end zone and Bryant had increased its lead with :07 left in the half.
And when Burks threw to Price out of the swinging gate to tack on the 2-point conversion, it was 16-6.
The Hornets got the ball to start the second half too but, instead of adding to the lead, they lost possession on a fumble at their own 45. The Tigers returned the favor, however. McCarthur fumbled and Devon Alpe recovered.
With Turner and Burks taking turns, the Hornets drove to the 11. But on the 12-yard run that got them there, Turner was shaken up. Drew Alpe came in and trucked through a big hole on the left side and powered into the end zone.
They converted again with Burks pitching to Jones who threw to Quinton Royal to make it 24-6 with 3:49 left in the third quarter.
The defense continued to stymie the Tigers too. On the first play of the next series, Polite lost 3 yards when he was brought down by Khaliq Slater and Austin Blacklaw.
The Tigers eventually punted the Hornets back to the 19 but Bryant drove to the Central 18. Turner’s 25-yard gallop through the secondary may have been the run of the night. Later, Burks galloped for 16 yards. The next play, however, resulted in a fumble that Central recovered with 6:33 left in the game.
The Tigers managed their initial first down of the second half by penalty but, on the next play, Hall and Drew Alpe stopped Polite for a loss. Two plays later, Blacklaw sacked McCarthur.
A bad snap derailed Central’s punt attempt and the Hornets regained possession at the 5. With reserves in the game, another fumble cost them. The Tigers used up the final 3:16 nudging the ball out to the 45.
BRYANT 24, LITTLE ROCK CENTAL 6
Score by quarters
Central 6 0 0 0 — 6
BRYANT 0 16 8 0 — 24
LR CENTRAL — Truitt 1 run (run failed), 4:48
BRYANT — Turner 7 run (Hardin pass from Jones), 6:41
BRYANT — Price 11 pass from Burks (Price pass from Burks), 0:07
BRYANT — Dr.Alpe 11 run (Royal pass from Jones), 3:59
First downs 8 16
Rushes-yds 40-47 29-213
Passing 1-3-1 3-5-0
Passing yds 18 30
Punts-avg. 3-29.7 0-00.0
Fumbles-lost 2-1 5-5
Penalties-yds 5-35 5-46
Rushing: BRYANT, Turner 16-140, Burks 11-76, Dr.Alpe 1-11, Dedmon 1-(-14); LR CENTRAL, Petite 20-46, Muhammad 5-18, Hayes 4-7, Truitt 7-0, McCarthur 3-(-5), Rector 1-(-19).
Passing (C-A-I-Y): BRYANT, Burks 3-5-0-30; LR CENTRAL, McCarthur 1-3-1-18.
Receiving: BRYANT, Miller 1-14, Price 1-11, Lee 1-5; LR CENTRAL, Truitt 1-18.