Bryant’s Senior Night, Cox’s final game with Central make tonight’s season finale rich with sentiment

The Bryant Hornets Seniors of 2009. (Photo by Rick Nation) By Rob Patrick

It somehow seems appropriate that tonight when the Little Rock Central Tigers play the Bryant Hornets at Bryant Stadium, they’ll play old-school: A little grass, a little dirt, a little mud.

The game marks the end of the regular season for both teams but the Hornets will be playing on next week at home in the first round of the Class 7A State playoffs.

The Tigers, meanwhile, will pack the pads away and, more than that, their head coach Bernie Cox will hang up his whistle after 44 yards in the biz. Back in 1965, every game was played on grass, dirt and mud.

Cox has earned his retirement. As the head coach at Central since 1975, he’s led the Tigers to seven State championships including back-to-back crowns as recently as 2003-2004, to go with 17 conference titles and 20 playoff appearances.

But those heady days are past. Tonight, the Tigers will be trying to avoid a second consecutive 0-10 season and a 21-game losing streak.[more]

No doubt, they’d love to end it where it started in 2007 when they ended the season with a 28-13 loss to the Hornets, which knocked the Tigers out of the playoffs after they’d upended Catholic, 28-27, the previous week.

Most of all, of course, they’d like to win it for their coach.

“It’s just the last game,” Cox said. “It may be that I just haven’t had the feeling yet. It’s the last one and I think it’s time. In six months or a year, I may think well, it wasn’t time but I don’t think so.

“Forty-four years, that’s two-thirds of my life I’ve been staying late every day working with football and starting early and in June and July,” he continued. “It feels like it’s time. It’s longer that a lot of them stay but, to be honest, when I started 44 years ago, I would’ve never guessed it. Maybe 20, 25 years or even less than that and gotten into something else.”

“It’ll be an emotional night,” acknowledged Bryant head coach Paul Calley. “As much as Coach Cox has meant to the state of Arkansas and high school football, it’s sad to see a man like that go out the way he’s going out.

“We definitely don’t want to see him win though,” Calley asserted.

The Bryant coach recalled last season’s final game at Quigley Stadium. The situation was the same. Bryant was on the way to the playoffs and Central was trying to avoid the oh-fer.

“It went down to the wire,” Calley recalled. “We had to block a punt and change the momentum to get a win. They scored with about six minutes to go but we were able to run out the clock and score at the end, but it was a close game.”

This Tigers team has struggled on offense. They’ve been shut out four times and in each of four other games scored only 6 points. They came closest to winning when they played Van Buren and lost 28-24.

“We’ve had turnovers, we’ve had a lot of different things come up that have hurt us,” Cox said. “I can’t tell you that we were better than any team we’ve played because at the time we played them, we weren’t better than they were. We made more mistakes than they did. We didn’t execute. We didn’t tackle as well as we thought that we’d worked on tackling. We didn’t block as well as we should have.

“Of course, everyone has injuries and we’ve had a number of them,” he related. “It’s just been a year like that.”

Calley said, as with most underdogs, the Hornets would be best served to get ahead early and not encourage the Tigers to get more fired up.

“Special teams will be a key,” he said. “We’ll be running the ball like always, mixing in the pass.”

Running, of course, will feature Bryant High School’s new career rushing leader, Chris Rycraw who will be trying to add to his 1,344 yards this season.

After a tough night at North Little Rock last week on the heels of missing the Hornets' game against Cabot the previous week, Calley would like to see quarterback Jimi Easterling find his groove again in the passing game as well. He needs 87 yards to reach the 1,000-yard mark on the season.

“We expect exactly what we saw last year,” Cox asserted. “A whole lot of No. 21 (Rycraw). I hope we meet him face-to-face and not watching him run down the field.”

There will be some emotion for the Hornets as well who will be celebrating Senior Night, honoring a group that has a chance to eventually be the winningest class in the history of the program.

It won’t, however, be the Hornets final game at home. They will host Fort Smith Southside, Springdale, Rogers or Fort Smith Northside in the first round of the playoffs on Friday, Nov. 13. Which one of those will be determined by their games on Friday, and the results of the Russellville-Cabot contest on Thursday. If Cabot wins, the Hornets will play Southside. If Russellville wins, it’ll be one of the other three.


Unofficial through 9 games

BRYANT 121 94 44 20 — 279

Opponents 23 21 49 28 — 121

Team stats


First down 152 100

Rushes-yds 334-1,850 318-1,304

Passing 81-148-4 59-137-3

Passing yds 1,119 691

Fumbles-lost 14-4 16-6

Penalties yds 56-425 67-496


Rushing: Rycraw 207-1,344, J.Jones 37-219, Powell 33-81, Easterling 30-65, Freshour 2-20, Tolbert 2-42, Harris 1-11, Garland 2-54, Reed 3-4, Arnold 7-20, Winfrey 1-2, Pritchett 2-(-9), Cross 2-(-14), Davidson 4-(-18).

Passing (C-A-I-Y): Easterling 71-128-4-913 (10 TD), Davidson 9-18-0-159 (1 TD), Tolbert 1-1-0-47 (1 TD), Rycraw 0-1-0-0.

Receiving: Parish 31-494, Garland 17-235, Rycraw 10-78, Winfrey 4-112, Nichols 3-43, J.Hampton 3-26, Powell 2-34, Arnold 3-31, Butler 2-12, Harris 2-10, Reed 1-10, Garrett 1-8, Heil 1-6.

Scoring: Rycraw 96 (15 td-r, 1 td-p), Parish 53 (8 td-rec. 5 xtra-pt.), Denker 42 (5 fg {40, 22, 42, 26, 42}, 27 xtra-pt.), Jones 18 (3 td-r), Garland 24 (2 ko-ret., 1 td-r., 1 td-rec.), Bullock 6 (1 int. ret.), Butler 6 (1 td-int. ret.), Easterling 6 (1 td-r), Harris 6 (1 td-rec), Powell 6 (1 td-rec), Tolbert 6 (1 ko-ret), Winfrey 6 (1 td-rec.), J.Hampton 2 (1 conv.-pass).

1 comment

  1. Sam Chaloner

    Rob, great article. I hope there is a point in the game tonight where all of the fans can honor Coach Cox. You don’t often get the chance to see a legend go out. They just don’t come around like this anymore.

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