Photos by Kevin Nagle
CONWAY — On Tuesday, Nov. 4, the Bryant Hornets freshman team will play for the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference championship when they host the rival Benton Panthers at 7 p.m.
On Thursday night, the Hornets bounced back from their first loss of the season (14-7) at Cabot South, with a 22-0 victory over the Conway White Wampus Cats at John McConnell Stadium. It was Bryant’s second shutout of the season as they improved to 8-1 overall and 6-1 in conference play.
“Our effort was there tonight,” declared Hornets coach Kenny Horn. “I feel like we were a little bit inspired. Last week (at Cabot), that was my fault. I didn’t have us ready to roll like I thought we were. So we talked about effort and how to play inspired and how to want it more than the other team. Tonight, we did.”
Bryant built a 15-0 lead by scoring on its first two possessions of the game then added a clinching score early in the fourth quarter, while the defense was limiting the Wampus Cats to 113 yards of offense.
“The defense played lights out, played well,” Horn noted. “(Conway White) has been scoring a lot of points but we shut them out. Maybe we were lucky, but I think we played well.”
The Hornets compiled 209 yards of offense including 141 on the ground despite the Cats’ loading up the box and getting penetration at times, particularly during a stretch after the 15-0 lead was established.
“They loaded the box on us like that but, you know, we feel we’re big enough (on the offensive line) and all our backs are good enough that we can still out-scheme them, maybe pick one or two of them off and still get some yards,” Horn explained. “And we did. They kind of got to us at one point but we made one little adjustment with the way we lined up and it made all the difference in the world. We got leverage on them and made a few big plays.”
It also helped that the Hornets burned the Cats in the air a few times. Quarterback Michael Jones was 4 of 6 passing for 68 yards, all in the first half.
Jones also rushed for 62 yards on 12 carries and scored all three Bryant touchdowns.
The Hornets also got a lift from running back Isaiah Ash in the second half, stepping in after starter Diante Woodson hobbled off the field after a 12-yard run that started Bryant’s final touchdown drive. Ash wound up with 52 yards on just four carries.
“Isaiah has not carried the ball all year for us in the varsity games,” Horn noted. “He’s had a hard time holding onto the ball sometimes but we’ve been repping him on Tuesdays (B games) to get him ready. Isaiah is a big boy. He’s a load to bring down and he runs the ball well. He compliments the other two guys (Woodson and Antonio Fuller). We’ve got some good running backs, along with the quarterback. He’s hard to account for in any scheme.”
The Bryant defense forced punts on each of the first two possessions by Conway White. The Cats picked up 7 yards on their first snap but the next two lost yardage. Nick Smith dropped Damyiontay Allen for a yard loss then James McClendon sniffed out a screen pass from Conway’s Andrew Hreha to wideout Jackson Freeman, resulted in a 5-yard setback.
Another big key for Bryant was return yardage. Cameron Vail had punt returns of 15, 24 and 35 yards, putting the offense in great field position. The first of those had the Hornets 40 yards away from the end zone. Two plays into the possession, Jones broke a 32-yard keeper for the first points. Luke Welch delivered the extra point.
The second of those punt returns put Bryant in even better starting position, at the Cats’ 36. Though the first-down play lost yardage, the Hornets wound up converting a fourth-and-14 when Jones fired a pass to Vail down the middle of the field for 39 yards to the 1.
On the next play, the snap got away from Jones but it bounced right back into his hands and he sprinted wide to get into the end zone.
Out of the swinging gate formation on the conversion, Vail ran to the corner and got in to make it 15-0 with :39 left in the first quarter.
Vail’s third long punt return came after another Wampus Cats three-and-out. The Hornets set up shot at the Conway White 36 but the Cats made a stand and, on a fourth-and-4, Jones’ pass to Brooks Ellis came up a yard short.
The Cats’ subsequent possession — their fourth of the game — produced their initial first down when running back Brennan Clark entered the game and dashed for 13 yards. He would wind up with 58 of the Wampus Cats’ total yards in the game but when he’d helped the team reach the Bryant 46, he fumbled and the Hornets’ Ray Davis scooped up the loose ball with 1:58 left in the half.
Keyed by completions of 7 and 19 yards between Jones and Vail, the Hornets drove to the Conway White 11. A loss on a second down play there then an incomplete pass left it a fourth-and-6 at the 13. Miguel Garcia entered to attempt a 30-yard field goal. He had the distance, but the kick went left with :10.7 left in the half.
The Hornets had their only three-and-out when the second half started. After a short punt, the Wampus Cats put together a drive from their own 34 to the Bryant 32. But, on a third-and-2 there, Clark was dropped for a loss by Vail, who crashed into the backfield from the left flank.
On the next play, the Cats tried a bubble screen to Freeman only to have Jones sail in to stop the play well short of the first down.
The Hornets took over on downs with 7:55 left in the game. Woodson’s dash for 12 yards was followed by Ash’s first two carries, the second of which broke for 16 yards. And when a face mask penalty was tacked on, the ball was moved to the Wampus Cats’ 20.
Ash then got half of that and Jones the other half, scoring with 5:31 left in the game. Welch added the PAT to set the final score.
“We really just wanted to drive the field right there and run the clock but we wound up scoring, which was even better,” Horn mentioned. “We were up four possessions so we had it in hand right there. Then getting it back at the end, that was big too. We got the chance to run the clock out.”
Conway White’s last possession included a 45-yard pass completion from Hreha to Freeman. Clark crashed to the Bryant 36 but, on the next play, Hreha was escorted out of bounds by Ellis and Luke Curtis. A third-down pass was dropped by Will Kennedy as Jakalon Pittman made a big hit. On fourth down, Hreha’s pass intended for Logan White was juggled then fell incomplete when Curtis made the hit.
The final drive was helped along by Jones’ 15-yard run and Ash’s 13-yard burst. At the Conway White 33, Jones took a knee twice and the Hornets’ celebrated their win.
HORNETS 22, WAMPUS CATS 0
Score by quarters
Bryant 15 0 0 7 — 22
Conway White 0 0 0 0 — 0
BRYANT — Jones 32 run (Welch kick), 4:14
BRYANT — Jones 1 run (Vail run), 0:39.0
BRYANT — Jones 10 run (Welch kick), 5:31
Bryant Conway White
First downs 10 5
Rushes-yds 25-141 27-54
Passing 4-6-0 5-8-0
Passing yds 68 59
Punts-avg. 1-16.0 3-38.0
Fumbles-lost 1-0 3-1
Penalties-yds 0-00 1-15
Rushing: BRYANT, Jones 12-62, Ash 4-52, Woodson 8-27, Fuller 1-0; CONWAY WHITE, Clark 19-58, Freeman 1-11, Allen 1-(-1), Bulter 3-(-2), Hreha 3-(-9).
Passing (C-A-I-Y): BRYANT, Jones 4-6-0- 68; CONWAY WHITE, Hreha 5-8-0-59.
Receiving: BRYANT, Vail 3-65, Ellis 1-3; CONWAY WHITE, Freeman 3-41, Kennedy 1-9, Wicks 1-9.