As the Fayetteville Bulldogs prepare for the Springdale Har-Ber Wildcats and the Class 7A football State championship game, the Bryant Hornets players, fans and coaches are, no doubt, wondering about what might have been. The Hornets had the Bulldogs on the run in the first half of their playoff game on Nov. 20.
Bryant appeared to have a touchdown to extend a 21-16 lead in the third quarter but a penalty — one of only five in the game between the two teams — negated it. Hayden Ray came on to kick a 28-yard field goal, his 13th of the season, tying the school record set by Todd Bryan in 2002.
Fayetteville rallied to take the lead 30-24 but Bryant had two shots deep in the Bulldogs’ territory to tie it with a touchdown and win it with an extra point only to be denied in excruciating fashion. The final gasp was a pass that was meant to be thrown away out of bounds only to float back into the field of play where it was intercepted.
The remarkable 9-2 season (the second nine-win campaign in a row, a first in the program’s history) was full of landmark events including Calley’s 100th win as the Bryant head coach.
The team’s 6-0 start was just the second time in the history of the program for that to happen. (The other was 1999.)
The Hornets’ offense churned out a single-season school rushing record with 2,745 yards (breaking a mark of 2,671 set in 1997).
DeAmonte Terry, who started the season sharing the workload at running back with Savonte Turner and Cameron Coleman but ended up carrying the load after his cohorts were lost to injury, became the first back to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing at Bryant since Karon Dismuke in 2011. He’s just the sixth back to reach that mark since 1993 joining Chris Rycraw (2009, 2008), Matt White (2001), Jackie Brown (1997) and Greg Jumper (1995).
And the senior class of 2015 set a new standard for wins over three years with 26.
As the State final approached, Hornets head coach Paul Calley sat down for an interview:
BryantDaily.com: “You see Fayetteville here, playing in the finals. It kind of stings, doesn’t it, to think what might have been?”
Calley: “Yeah, it does.
“I told the kids before the game, ‘The winner of this football game is going to play in the State championship game.’ And I truly believed that. And we came up just a little bit short.
“I thought we played above our heads, offensively. We played great offensively. Coach (Lance) Parker, Coach (Dondre) Harris and Coach (Clint) Shadwick had a great game plan. We moved our tackles to guards to try to contain 99 (Fayetteville’s standout defensive lineman Akial Byers). We did a good job of that and it gave us a chance to move the football. We didn’t punt all night. We had a couple of fake punts in we didn’t get to use.
“I thought (quarterback) Gunnar (Burks) played his best game of the year, by far. He was on. I hated that last pass, hated that it ended like that.”
“Our defense, I thought, played exceptionally well. We gave up some big plays and it was just little technique breakdowns that allowed it. When you play a team like that, that’s explosive, every inch matters. We had people just out of position a couple of times and they broke those big plays.
“I thought if we stayed in it until halftime, we’d have a chance to win. We had the lead. I thought it hurt us when the touchdown was called back. We had a holding penalty. Then I hurried Hayden on the missed field goal (late in the third quarter). I wanted them to think we were going to fake it so I ran the field goal team out late so that we might not get the rush. We didn’t get the rush but Hayden felt a little rushed and missed the field goal.
“I was super proud of the way we played.”
BryantDaily.com: “Looking at the season as a whole, I know there’s adversity in every season but it’s hard to remember a season where you had more.
Calley: “There was quite a bit. We came off a nine-win season where all of our wins were by double digits. Then we have another nine-win season where every win was almost down to the wire. We were in every ballgame. That makes it a little more nerve-racking, plus the injuries and the adversity we had to overcome says a lot about the character of our kids and just their ability to put it behind them and play football.
“This was one of the most enjoyable years that we had coaching as a group because we didn’t have any selfishness. We didn’t have any pouting. We didn’t have any people in trouble. We had little issues here and there but nothing major. It was unique. You know, there’s always going to be somebody in detention hall or late for school or something like that. We hardly had any of that. It was a really enjoyable year to coach. I think, with everything else that happened, as far as schedule change and all of that, it might have driven us all crazy if it had been one of those bad years.”
BryantDaily.com: “Talk a little bit about your offensive line. I think they’re a lesson in diligence that people need to know about.”
Calley: “Of all those players, from tight end to tight end, Dagen Cardin, Jaret Jacobs, Daniel Coppock, Cole Chapman, Cole Fristchen, Brycen Waddle and Zach Knapp — of those guys, one of them lettered last year. They hung in there as a group. We started working them together as a group as sophomores. They’ve always been really close. They hung in there. They had a great year. None of them are great football players but they’re good kids that were committed to the program, that stayed the course, were unselfish and did what they had to do to help us win.”
BryantDaily.com: “And you can almost include Gunner Burks in that.”
Calley: “You can. He got some meaningful snaps early last year but then he was injured. He never did really get back in the mix. Cameron Coleman before he got hurt, came on and had a great year. Savonte was destined to have a great year. DeAmonte carried the load. Jordan Gentry was big for us. Austin Kelly came on big. Landon Smith made some big catches down the stretch and, of course, AO made a lot of big plays.
“Our H-backs, Demaja Price and Drew Alpe, get overlooked sometimes, but they did a great job of helping that offensive line.”
BryantDaily.com: “Was there any move more key than moving (wide receiver) Quinton Royal to defense?”
Calley: “We hated to give him up on offense because he’s such a heady player and he knows exactly what we’re trying to do. He knows the formations. He knows the routes. He runs good routes. He’s got great hands. But it got to the point where, in order for us to be able to slow the passing game down, we had to put him on defense. And, once we did that, I think it bolstered our secondary and helped the other secondary players play better.
“The defensive line and linebackers were solid all year. We didn’t give up a lot of points.”
BryantDaily.com: “They played to their potential.”
Calley: “They did play to their potential. Big Cam (Cameron Murray) and Mario (Waits) were outstanding up front. Madre Dixon played well at end then we had Peyton Robertson and Walker Brown step up.
“Sometimes we expect more than we should but if you don’t have expectations, you’re certainly not going to get it.”
BryantDaily.com: “You had to move a defensive lineman to middle linebacker too.”
Calley: “Hayden Knowles was solid up front but due to injuries, we had to move him to inside linebacker. It put him playing out of position but he made some big plays throughout the year and helped solidify that spot. Both outside linebackers, (Devon) Alpe and (Marvin) Moody then Jake Hall at times and Gregg Williams came in and played really well.
“I thought (safety) Jaelyn Jones came on. He had interceptions early but he played more solid late, helping in the run game and defending the pass. Cameron Vail, as a sophomore, was third on the team in tackles. He played as well as a sophomore can play.
“Our kicking game, Hayden ended up tying the school record for field goals (in a season). He could’ve broken it against Fayetteville. But he had a great year.”
BryantDaily.com: “Especially for a kid that hadn’t done it at the varsity level before.”
Calley: “He had ice water in his veins most of the year. Kicking the ball off, we didn’t have a touchback every time but he could put the ball where we needed him to, to allow us to cover. He was big for us all year.
BryantDaily.com: “One of the biggest juggling acts you had to do all year was special teams with your punts and punt returns. It finally got ironed out.”
Calley: “We just got to where we wanted to make sure we maintained possession after a punt. We just wanted to catch it. We didn’t worry about a return. We talked about putting two back deep so the ball couldn’t get away from us and they wouldn’t get the roll but when we’ve had that before, we’ve had just as many mix-ups with two back deep. So, it’s safer to me with just one and, if it hits and rolls, it hits and rolls.
“And our punt game, Hayden (Ray) was really good early. It looked good but we needed a little bit more distance out of it. We tried Austin (Kelly) and he had his moments. We had some good punts but we just didn’t get to practice it enough. Towards then end, Gunnar, I guess he got his second wind, because his leg got a little bit stronger and, in practice, he was booming them so we ended up putting him back in. Plus, it gave us a threat of the fake. It ended up working out.”
BryantDaily.com: “All in all, a pretty remarkable season.”
Calley: “I thought so. The coaches did a great job.”
Final 2015 statistics through 11 games
Score by quarters
BRYANT 89 67 64 65 — 261
Opponent 49 42 50 44 — 197
First downs 197 174
Rushes-yds 469-2745 361-1340
Passing 101-170-8 157-270-11
Passing yds 1358 1814
Fumbles-lost 19-9 21-7
Penalties-yds 68-695 74-654
Rushing: Terry 161-1,054, Burks 128-535, Coleman 56-362, Turner 40-243, Henson 17-177, B.Murray 21-117, Kelly 5-61, Orender 10-60, King 6-38, Pittman 2-36, Long 8-33, Dr.Alpe 5-20, Royal 1-(-5).
Passing (C-A-I-Y): Burks 101-163-5-1,358 (12 TDs), Bonvillain 0-4-1-0, Terry 0-3-2-0.
Receiving: Orender 31-536, Smith 25-251, Kelly 20-385, Gentry 9-71, Turner 6-25, Terry 5-36, Royal 2-26, Carden 1-12, Jacobs 1-9, Coleman 1-5.
Scoring: Ray 71 (13 fg-30, 39, 25, 40, 21, 36, 21, 38, 25, 41, 29, 22, 28 (misses 42, 39, 38); 32 of 34 PATs), Burks 42 (7 td-r), Orender 42 (1 td-r, 6 td-p), Coleman 36 (6 td-r), Kelly 24 (4 td-p), Terry 24 (4 td-r), Turner 18 (3 td-r), Carden 6 (1 td-p), Jacobs 6 (1 td-p), Isom-Green 6 (1 TD, ko ret), Henson 6 (1 td-r), Dixon 4 (2 tackles for safety).
Tackles: J.Jones 88, Waits 67, Moody 67, Dixon 67, Knowles 65, Vail 59, C.Murray 51, Isom-Green 50, De.Alpe 50, Finney 39, Robertson 38, Royal 26, Howard 23, M.Jones 23, Brown 20, Davis 17, Guillory 17, Williams 14, Hall 12, Hunt 10, Welch 7, Hardin 5, Gentry 3.
Tackles for loss: Waits 11, Dixon 11, C.Murray 10, Moody 9, Knowles 6, De.Alpe 4, Robertson 4, J.Jones 3, Vail 3, Finney 2, Hall 2, Isom-Green 2, Howard 1, M.Jones 1, Royal 1, Brown 1, Guillory 1.
Special teams tackles: Davis 3, Hall 3, Williams 3, Dixon 2, Brown 2, Moody 2, Finney 2, Gentry 2.
Sacks: Dixon 6, Waits 3, Robertson 3, Brown 2, C.Murray 2, Guillory 2, Moody 2, Knowles 1, Williams 1.
Pass break-ups: Royal 6, Vail 6, Finney 3, C.Murray 2, Moody 2, De.Alpe 2, Hunt 1, Knowles 1, Guillory 1, Hall 1.
Interceptions: Royal 6, J.Jones 5.
Fumbles: Moody 3, Finney 2, Dixon 1, C.Murray 1, De.Alpe 1, Brown 1.