Photos by Kevin Nagle
It was a frustrating night for the Bryant Blue Hornets eighth grade football team of Bethel Middle School on Thursday. Five times, the Hornets drove into the red zone (inside the opponent’s 20) and each time they were not only denied but pushed back, four times by the Cabot Red Panthers’ defense and once due to penalties.
Two long touchdown runs by the Panthers’Donta Barker produced a 16-6 lead for the Panthers in the first half. A scoring drive to start the second half added to the margin.
The Hornets gave themselves the opportunities to come from behind but couldn’t cash in.
The 22-6 loss was the first for Bethel, which opened the season with a 26-8 win over Little Rock Henderson.
The Hornets actually out-gained the Panthers, compiling 282 yards of offense including 145 yards rushing on 25 carries by River Gregory. Cabot Red finished with 218 yards, all on the ground in their traditional grind it out dead-T.
Barker had 146 yards on just eight carries with his two TDs.
The opening drive provided a view of things to come. The Hornets dashed to the Panthers’ 34 on a 20-yard bolt by Gregory and an 11-yard jaunt by Hayden Schrader. Quarterback Garrett Wilson kept for 9 yards but the play was negated by a holding penalty. From the 36, Bryant Blue lost yardage on the next three snaps and Baker Gray came on to punt.
Cabot Red, booted back to their own 23, needed just one play to score. On a quick, straight-ahead handoff, Barker burst through the Bethel defense and went 77 yards for the first score. A run for two, made it 8-0.
In turn, the Hornets rolled down the field again, sparked by a 28-yard burst from Xavier Foote. They reached the 14 and were marked back to the 19 for procedure. Runs by Foote, Wilson and Gregory reached the 4 where Bethel had a first-and-goal.
But the Hornets couldn’t get across the goal line. A second-down play lost 6 yards. A third-down snap was stopped for nothing then a fourth-down run picked up a yard.
The Blue defense responded with a stand, limiting Red to one first down.
A short punt gave the Hornets great field position, 44 yards away from the end zone. Gregory sliced for 13 yards and, a play later, sailed 32 yards for a touchdown. Though a try for two failed, the Hornets trailed just 8-6.
Moments later, however, Barker broke free again and sprinted 48 yards for an answering score. And when Layton Spencer ran in the conversion, the Panthers actually had a two-score lead with 1:57 left in the first half.
The Hornets made a bid to respond with points. A pair of short pass completions from Wilson to Austin Schroeder and Schrader, respectively, along with a trio of rush by Gregory got them to the Cabot Red 20 with a first down and just under 40 seconds to play.
The first play there resulted in a loss. After Wilson clocked the ball with :12.8 showing, a final run by Gregory was stopped at the 14.
The Panthers got the ball to start the second half and drove 64 yards in six plays to increase the lead. The big play was a 14-yard run by Barker that had a 15-yard penalty added on for a late hit out of bounds.
Trey Birdsong’s 15-yard burst reached the 7 and, a play later, Spencer scored.
Once again, Bethel responded. Gregory dashed for 12 yards then 16 more as the Hornets reached Cabot Red territory. They eventually reached the 14 but a loss followed then a penalty, another stop for a loss and, on a third-and-17 at the 26, Cabot Red’s Jaiden Ryals intercepted a pass.
Two plays later, however, the Hornets had the ball back. Schroder recovered a fumble at the Red 18. Two runs by Gregory got the ball to the 13 but a holding penalty sabotaged the drive. Still, two plays later on fourth down, Gregory weaved his way through the Panthers’ defense for an apparent touchdown from the 14 only to have it negated by a false-start penalty.
Another fourth-down try was foiled by the Cabot, which took over at the 19.
The Panthers wound up punting from their own 20 and, with four minutes left, the Hornets made one more bid to score. Wilson and Schrader combined for completions of 15 and 43 yards.
At the 3, Gregory was stopped right at the goal line. A second-and-goal snap resulted in a loss of the two yards he’d gained. A third-down run lost 7 yards and a fourth-down pass fell incomplete with 1:55 to play.
Bethel returns to action on Tuesday, Sept. 13, at Bryant Stadium against Little Rock Forest Heights.