LITTLE ROCK — The Bryant Hornets played a whopping nine 7-on-7 games at the annual Shootout of the[more] South held Friday and Saturday at Mighty Bluebird Field. They went 5-4, just missing a berth in the championship tournament then reaching the semifinals of the consolation tournament.
The Hornets defeated Nashville 21-14 to start off pool play on Friday. After a loss to Central Arkansas Christian, 23-15, they bounced back with a 31-22 win over Watson Chapel and a 42-14 win over Hilldale, Okla. To wrap up pool play on Friday, the Hornets took on Allen, Texas and, after some early controversy, absorbed a 25-21 loss.
On Saturday, Bryant downed Little Rock Parkview 28-21. A 37-32 loss to Rogers Heritage send the Hornets to the consolation tourney where they opened with a 42-21 win over Stigler, Texas to reached the semifinals against Greenbrier which ended the Hornets’ day with a 28-21 setback.
Junior quarterback Hayden Lessenberry threw 29 touchdown passes with four interceptions. Sophomore Wesley Akers added seven TD tosses without a pick. Sawyer Nichols caught 12 scoring strikes and Austin Powell nine to lead the Bryant receivers.
In the opening win over Nashville, Lessenberry threw three touchdowns, two to Dillon Winfrey and one to Powell.
“Dillon has been struggling to overcome a hip flexor,” reported Hornets offensive coordinator Dale Jones. “It’s been bothering him for two, two-and-a-half weeks. He felt pretty darn good in that first game but he kind of re-aggravated it. He tried to play a little bit the next game against CAC but he played sparingly. Then he played against Watson Chapel then he pretty much didn’t play again the rest of the tournament. He didn’t play at all Saturday.”
The Hornets were completely without another playmaker in Jalen Bell. “He has a knee sprain that he suffered at the (Pulaski) Robinson 7-on-7,” Jones mentioned. “It was still bothering him. He’s getting better. It’s just a deep, deep sprain. He tried to warm up and play Friday but it was still too sore.
“The dead weeks are going to be good for us,” added the coach, referring to the mandatory mid-summer break of two weeks, June 19 through July 2, in which coaches cannot work with players. “We’ve got some guys banged up considerably. Austin Powell strained his hamstring (Saturday) in that first game. We’re looking forward to getting everybody healthy.”
In the loss to CAC, Lessenberry threw TD passes to Nichols and Karon Dismuke, adding a two-point conversion throw to Dismuke as well.
“We turned the ball over on downs twice and Hayden threw an interception,” Jones said. “We still had a chance at the end. We had the ball but time got us before we could come back. We only got one or two plays off on a last possession before time expired.
“We didn’t play real well,” he allowed. “We weren’t real efficient on offense in that game. But CAC had won the Auburn 7-on-7 the weekend before so they have a pretty good football team 7-on-7-wise.”
The Hornets got a break of about an hour before they took on Chapel. The rest proved beneficial as they raced out to a 21-0 lead over the Wildcats.
“It was very hot,” Jones mentioned. “The little break helped.”
Lessenberry threw three touchdown passes, all to Powell. Aaron Bell picked up points with an interception and Akers tossed a TD to Ben Clark.
Bryant had another quick start against Hilldale, building a 21-0 lead. Akers threw for three touchdowns. Madre London, Charles Henson and Clark each grabbed one. Lessenberry threw three as well, two to Nichols and one to Powell.
That set up the game with Allen, Texas, which eventually finished as the tourney runner-up.
“They were for real,” Jones said. “They just built a $65 million football facility in Allen. Their quarterback is about 6-4. Their two outside receivers are 6-3 and 6-4. Then, on defense, they had one linebacker and six d-backs. And every one of them was just as athletic as you can imagine or better than that. Everyone at the tournament was watching them play because of the athletes they had.
“But, I’ll be honest, we played them tough, real tough,” the coach stated.
Winfrey, after sitting out the previous two games, came back for about five plays on offense and five on defense. He caught a touchdown pass and Nichols caught two.
“I tell you, the windows for throwing the football were so much smaller when we played them, it hurt us a little bit,” Jones said. “Our timing was off. We had one tipped ball that was intercepted and one bad throw that was intercepted. And that’s the difference, 25-21.”
Each interception is worth two points in 7-on-7 play.
Bryant led 7-0 and had the ball. An Allen player made an interception but it came after the four-second clock (the time allotted a passer on each play) had expired.
“The referee said, ‘Well, that doesn’t count. It’s after the four seconds,’” Jones explained. “So we kept playing for the rest of the drive. We got to the 5-yard line and the (Allen) coach is going crazy the whole time. Honestly, the rule says that, after four seconds, if you quarterback throws it, it still counts when it’s picked off. You can’t catch a ball after four seconds, you can only intercept it. Well, the referee got with the guy who was putting on the tournament and came back and said, ‘Yeah, I blew the call.’ That turned it over to Allen. They got real fired up.”
Had the Hornets kept possession at the Allen 5, they’d had a good shot at putting Allen in a 14-0 hole. Instead it was 7-2 and the Texas team had the momentum. Allen scored on the very next play to take the lead.
“It was a big point swing,” Jones acknowledged.
In the win over Parkview on Saturday, Lessenberry threw touchdown passes to Nichols, Powell, Clark and London. The Lessenberry-Nichols combo scored on the very first play of the game.
“Ben Clark doesn’t really know the offenses yet,” Jones said. “We threw him out there with Austin hurting, with Jalen not playing the whole weekend and Winfrey playing very little on Friday and none Saturday. And he stepped in there pretty good.”
Against Rogers Heritage, it was the Hornets that got down early.
“We scored late to make it 37-32 then (Heritage) just basically ran out the clock,” Jones recounted. “I think they got a first down or two and we didn’t get to run any plays after that.
“If we would’ve beaten them it would’ve put us in the championship tourney,” he noted. “But losing to them put us in the consolation tourney.”
Akers and Clark teamed up on a touchdown. Lessenberry tossed four, two to Nichols and one each to Powell and Aaron Bell.
“Aaron has been working primarily on defense but, in the spring, we let him sub on offense at outside receiver and he stepped up Saturday and played really well,” Jones said. “He caught a touchdown and had two interceptions in that game.”
In the romp over Stigler, Lessenberry threw two touchdowns to Powell, one to Nichols and one to Clark. Akers hit Bell for one and Henson for another touchdown.
“We scored every time we had the ball,” Jones related.
Against Greenbrier, the Hornets suffered their only three-and-out of the tournament and fell behind 14-0.
“We’d gotten a first down or more in every possession,” Jones emphasized. “But that put us behind the eight-ball a little bit.”
Lessenberry and Nichols connected for all three Bryant touchdowns in the comeback.
“Our kids were tired,” Jones acknowledged. “With a few guys banged up and unable to play, we had a lot of guys playing both sides of the ball. But we did the best that we could. Our guys played hard.
“The bottom line, as (Hornets head) Coach (Paul) Calley said, it’s touch football, it’s not tackle football,” he concluded. “It was good to compete but we’re looking forward to putting pads on.”
The Hornets will play at a 7-on-7 tournament at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia on July 16. They’ll host a team camp on successive Mondays, July 11, 18 and 25, with Sheridan, Hot Springs Lakeside, Bauxite and Little Rock Central.