CONWAY — In a game in which the Bryant Blue Hornets eighth grade team of Bethel Middle School and the Conway Blue Wampus Cats traded the lead back and forth, when it came down to it in the second half, the Hornets needed their offense to drive for go-ahead score and their defense to make a stand.
They did both and the result was an 18-14 victory that improved the Bethel team to 3-1 on the season going into next Thursday’s Hornet Bowl against the Bryant White Hornets of Bryant Middle School.
Quarterback Jake Meaders connected with Ethan Loomis for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 6:52 left to play. Then the duo of Daylan Land and Will Hope sacked Conway quarterback Xavier Robinson with 2:25 to go to put the Wampus Cats under the gun after they’d driven to the Bryant Blue 37.
On a third-and-17, the Cats were penalized to make it third-and-22 at the Bryant 49. A long pass play fell incomplete but flags were thrown on the play. It looked like the drive would get new life thanks to a pass interference penalty. But another of the flags was against Conway Blue for having an ineligible receiver downfield.
A do-over produced an incompete pass as Jaeger Burks knocked down the deep throw from Robinson intended for Tommy Grady. It was redemption for Burks who was burned when Robinson and Grady teamed up on the 36-yard touchdown pass that had given the Cats’ their second-half lead.
A fourth-down pass was beyond the intended receiver and the Hornets took over on downs with 2:05 left. With Conway out of timeouts, they ran out the clock to preserve the victory.
Bethel had taken the lead initially with a strong 77-yard touchdown drive on the opening series of the game. A 43-yard run by McDonald provided the primary impetus. Meaders completed a pass to Burks that reached the Conway Blue 7. From there, the quarterback kept and found paydirt to make it 6-0.
It didn’t take Conway Blue long to answer. On the Cats’ first snap, running back Jabrien Earl lashed 61 yards for a touchdown. Along the way, he barreled through a tackle attempt near the Bryant 40. Though he broke the tackle, it appeared to aggravate and previous injury that Earl had suffered. He never returned to the game.
Robinson threw to Carson Cahill for a two-point conversion, though, and the Cats had an 8-6 lead.
The Hornets answered on their second possession, marching 66 yards in 10 plays to regain the lead. The drive started with Meaders and McDonald trading 9-yard bursts. But, moments later, the Hornets faced a third-and-11 at their own 49. Meaders and Burks combined for a 12-yard pass that kept the drive alive.
Later, Bethel faced a third-and-5 at the Conway 32 and Meaders fired a throw that Ryan Reidmueller reached up and snagged for 16 yards to the Cats’ 16.
McDonald followed with a 10-yard run then scored from the 6 with just 11 seconds left in the quarter.
A try for two failed but the Hornets were up 12-6 and that held until halftime.
Conway Blue picked up a first down on the subsequent series but the Cats couldn’t convert on third down at the Bryant 45. A fourth-and-5 run by Trevor Marshall was stacked up short of the first down and the Hornets took over.
And they made a bid to add to the lead thanks to a fourth-down completion of 26 yards from Meaders to Ethan Hilkert.
But, after a loss and a penalty, the drive stalled with :44.5 left in the half.
The go-ahead march for Conway Blue to start the second half looked like it might be in trouble when, after reaching the Bryant 31, the Cats were penalized. But, on the next snap, Grady hauled in Robinson’s pass at around the 15, cut back inside to avoid a tackle and scored to make it 14-12.
The two-point attempt was foiled when Robinson was sacked by Brandon Barber.
A short kick and a solid return by Randy Crook had the Hornets 52 yards away from regaining the upper hand. They were 3-for-3 on third downs during the march. On third-and-3 at the Conway 45, Meaders scampered for 12 yards. On a third-and-5 at the Conway 28, Meaders passed to Hilkert for 12 yards.
The Wampus Cats forced a fumble on second-and-5 at the 11 but Bethel’s Jacob Reynolds covered it to preserve the drive. That led to the final third-down conversion. On third-and-4 at the 10, Meaders and Loomis connected for the score that the defense made sure held up.