Bethel Hornets open season with 15-14 thriller over Searcy

By Rob Patrick

Things just weren’t going the Bryant Bethel eighth grade Hornets’ way in the second half of their season-opening game against their counterparts from Searcy on Thursday, Sept. 3.

Trailing 14-7 at the break, the Hornets got a nice kickoff return with some razzle-dazzle from Davis Nossaman out to near midfield. That led to a drive that appeared to be headed to paydirt, a chance to tie the game. But, after they reached the Searcy 27, a fumble cost them possession.[more] 

The defense pushed the Cubs back with the help of a major penalty and a bad snap in the shotgun. And when Jordan Jones kicked the ball away from inside his own 10, Nossaman went the distance on the return for an apparent touchdown only to have it called by by a holding penalty away from the ball.

Still, they were just 38 yards from scoring with time still left in the third quarter. Thanks in large part to a 15-yard burst by Bryce Denker which converted a fourth-and-1 from the 29, the Hornets reached the Searcy 10.

But another fumble cost them possession on the first play of the fourth quarter, thwarting another shot at tying the game or taking the lead.

Stuck at their own 6, the Cubs sputtered. Amador Gaspar dropped Jones for a loss then a delay penalty had them inside the 5. But, on third down, Jones completed a long pass to Jeffrey Oest for a first down near midfield foiling Bryant’s hopes of quick three-and-out.

That’s when the fortunes of the Hornets changed.

On the very next play, Jones had the ball stripped. Nossaman scooped it up and set sail once again. This time, he raced 56 yards for a touchdown that counted.

Trailing 14-13 with 4:17 left to play, the Hornets went for a 2-point conversion and Denker, running at tailback behind lineman-turned-fullback Daniel Castleberry, plunged into the end zone to give Bryant the lead.

Moments later, on a first down from its own 30, Searcy went back to the air. But Jones’ throw was picked off by Spencer Kilgore with 3:50 left to play.

The Hornets proceeded to run out the clock behind the running of Denker, nailing down a thrilling 15-14 victory.

Denker finished with 51 yards on eight carries, taking over the load that Matt Mears had carried before he went down with an injury. Mears had accumulated 54 yards on 10 totes up to then.

And quarterback Chase Thornton hit 8 of 13 passes for 80 yards including a 14-yard touchdown toss to Denker with 1:00 left in the first half that gave the Hornets a brief 7-6 lead.

Searcy had gained the upper hand on the very first play of the game when the nifty Jones broke a 53-yard touchdown run. A try for 2 failed, leaving it 6-0.

The Hornets’ score was set by the defense which turned back a Searcy drive that reached the Bryant 21. A fourth-down play was foiled by a fumble that Castleberry recovered.

Mears got the scoring march started with a 12-yard burst and, a play later, another run for 8 yards. But he was dropped for a loss on third-and-2.

From midfield, the Hornets came to the line to go for it and drew the Cubs offsides to gain a new set of downs. Mears galloped for 8 yards then Thornton and Nossaman combined on a 23-yard completion that set up the scoring strike.

Thornton’s extra point gave the Hornets the lead.

But it didn’t last long.

After Searcy covered a short kick, Jones took off again on a scramble that broke for 60 yards and a touchdown to make it 12-7. This time, he kept on the conversion as well to make it 14-7 with 26 seconds left in the half.

Bethel made a bid to answer with the help of a pair of major penalties, including an interference play that probably saved a touchdown with :03 left. That came after Thornton completed a 17-yard pass to Chase Christy which had a personal foul marked off behind it.

The Hornets reached the 10 but a pass from there fell incomplete as time expired.

Jones, who rushed for 115 yards on six carries in the first half, was bottled up in the second half. He finished with 108 yards on 10 attempts. He also passed for 69 yards, hitting four of his five passes before Kilgore’s killer interception.

Bethel is set to return to action against Bryant Middle School on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

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