For more photos from this event by Rick Nation, go here
Most people remember that Hall of Famer Joe Namath was the quarterback in the infamous “Heidi Bowl” on Nov. 17, 1968. Namath and the Jets were playing a hotly-contested game against the Oakland Raiders, who were in the process of rallying from a 32-22 deficit in the fourth quarter when NBC ended its broadcast of the game prematurely to get to a made-for-TV movie of Heidi, a classic children’s tale, on the air on time.
Fans were irate when Oakland wound up winning the game, 43-32, and most of the country didn’t get to see the end of the game.
The forgotten guy in all of it was the Raiders’ quarterback, Daryl Lamonica, who was known affectionately as “The Mad Bomber” for his eagerness and expertise at throwing the ball deep.
Reminiscent of Lamonica, the Bryant Hornets freshman team has its own “Mad Bomber” in strong-armed quarterback Austin Ledbetter who has shown quite a knack for accuracy on long passes.
Through eight games this season, Ledbetter has averaged over 25 yards per completion for the unbeaten Hornets, while completing over 65 percent of his passes (49 for 75) for 1,259 yards and 17 touchdowns including three on Thursday night in Bryant’s 49-14 rout over the Cabot South Panthers, who came into the game tied for second in the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference standings.
The Hornets’ QB hit 7 of 13 passes for 240 yards. He also led the team in rushing with 82 yards on seven carries with two TDs.
Bryant has now outscored eight opponents, 287-59 this season with two games to go.
This game, however, they were challenged early by the Panthers, who scored first, capitalizing on long kickoff return to open the game. Though they struggled to run the ball, which is what they like to do out of the dead-T, a run fake on a third-and-5 at the Bryant 43, resulted in an open receiver deep. Quarterback Kyler Carmack threw to tight end Stanley McCalister for 21 yards. Two plays later, Archer Torres scored from the 1 and Brayden Morse added a run for a two-point conversion to make it 8-0.
While it took six plays for the Panthers to score, it took just two for the Hornets to score twice. Brayden Godwin recovered Cabot South’s onside kick and, from the Panthers’ 49, Ledbetter found River Gregory deep down the middle for a touchdown. Myles Aldridge ran in the two-point conversion to make it 8-8.
The Hornets forced a three-and-out and got the ball back on their own 38. This time, Ledbetter threw outside to Hayden Schrader, who broke a tackle, got a nice block from fellow receiver Blaine Sears and sprinted up the sideline for a 62-yard touchdown, giving the Hornets the lead for good.
Bryant’s defense continued to stuff the Panthers. Rodricho Martin made a stop for no gain on second down then Connor Coleman and Ty Bahnks combined to stop a third-down run, forcing another punt.
Bryant regained possession at its own 37. This time, it took eight plays (due in part to a pair of dropped passes on deep throws). Still, Schrader grabbed a 24-yard toss and Ledbetter, on an option keeper, rambled 30 yards to set up his 4-yard touchdown run.
He also ran in the two-point conversion and, with 6:30 still to play in the first half, the once-leading Panthers found themselves down 22-8.
Using the pass once again, Cabot South answered. This time, Carmack and McCalister connected for 51 yards when Bryant’s safety fell down on the coverage.
“The first time, it was just a straight bust,” noted Bryant head coach Kenny Horn, who has now led freshman teams to 25 consecutive victories since midway through the 2015 season. “The second time, our guy fell down. But we got it fixed and went from there.”
Cabot was unable to complete another pass all game. Take away the two completions and they mustered just 55 yards of offense in the game, netting just 19 yards and one first down in the second half.
Ledbetter found Gregory for 16 yards then 23 more. A holding penalty wiped out a 13-yard throw to Aiden Adams that would’ve reached the 3 but, a play later, Ledbetter galloped 21 yards for another TD. This time, Brock Funk kicked the extra point to make it 29-14, setting the halftime margin.
“We gave up a couple of big plays but we responded well,” said Horn. “I will take it anytime Cabot has to pass it.
“I don’t like playing them,” he related. “It is hard to get the ball back from them in a short game. I knew if we had enough possessions, we could maybe get it out of reach. And we did. We played well. For the most part, we played clean and we executed well.”
Bryant extended the lead with a touchdown on the first drive of the second half. A 36-yard pass from Ledbetter to Gregory converted an early third down. Though another holding penalty pushed them back, Ledbetter ran the option again. With Cabot South determined to stop Aldridge, Bryant’s big-play running back, the Panthers left Ledbetter room to keep it. The result was a 29-yard run that set up Aldridge’s 1-yard scoring burst.
Funk’s kick made it 36-14 and the route was on.
And, with Cabot South playing all but two players within 20 yards of the 50 on the kickoff, Funk placed a pooch kick behind that front line and well in front of the deep return men. LaQuav Brumfield sprinted downfield on coverage in time to get to the ball before any Panther could and the Hornets had the ball back at the Cabot South 30.
Another one-play touchdown drive followed as Ledbetter and Gregory hooked up one more time to make it 42-14.
Cabot South, in turn, picked up its lone first down of the half but, facing a third-and-4 at their own 34, the Panthers went to the air again. This time, the Hornets had the same patter well covered and Noah Davis picked it off with 4:11 left in the third quarter.
Bryant went strictly to the ground game at that point and behind the work of the offensive line and some fine running by Xavier Foote, they put the capper on the rout. Foote accounted for 50 of the 56 yards on the drive including the touchdown run of 21 yards.
Funk’s kick set the final score with 1:24 left in the third quarter and set in motion a running clock with the mercy rule in effect.
“We didn’t run the ball that well (in the first half) but we made some adjustments to start the second half and ran the football like I wanted to,” Horn noted.
Now 8-0 on the season, the Hornets host their final home game next Thursday against Conway White. They close out the season with the Saline County showdown with Benton on Halloween, Tuesday, Oct. 31, at Panthers Stadium.