Championship showdown at Benton set after Hornets’ surge past Conway White

Photos by Rick Nation and Kevin Nagle

Logan Grant (10) latches onto Conway White quarterback Jovoni Johnson. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

Logan Grant (10) latches onto Conway White quarterback Jovoni Johnson. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

Now it will be for all the marbles.

Going into Thursday’s games, it looked like, if they could get a win over the Conway White Wampus Cats, the Bryant Hornets freshman team would get a chance to play the Benton Panthers freshmen for a share of the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference championship on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Benton came in unbeaten in league play, Bryant with one loss.

Well, the Hornets got their victory — and they earned it, breaking open a close game in the fourth quarter on the way to a 42-21 final. But when the Cabot Red Panthers upset Benton 26-24 in Cabot, it meant Tuesday’s renewal of the Saline County rivalry will now be winner-take-all, to the victor, the championship.

Bryant's K.J. Terry (20) contends with Conway White's Terry Clardy for a pass into the end zone. (Photo by Rick Nation)

Bryant’s K.J. Terry (20) contends with Conway White’s Terry Clardy for a pass into the end zone. (Photo by Rick Nation)

“You know, it really doesn’t matter if it’s for all the marbles or not,” stated Bryant coach Kenny Horn after his team’s win. “Benton and Bryant, it could be checkers or tiddly-winks, it doesn’t matter. I just hope our little team can at least stay on the field and be competitive because I’m telling you, they are a Division I football team as far as I’m concerned. I just hope we can at least make it competitive for them because they are a very, very good football team.”

Horn’s “little team” ain’t too bad either.

But Conway White gave them all they wanted for much of the game. And, in a game that included 63 points and 674 yards between the two teams, it wound up being Bryant’s defense that was the difference at crucial junctures in the second half.

Initially, the two teams traded licks like a couple of rowdy kids on the playground. At one point, the Cats led Bryant 14-7 but the Hornets scored 14 points in the final three minutes of the half to regain the upper hand. Conway White scored in short order to start the second half and, again, Bryant answered, snapping a 21-21 tie with 4:35 left in the third quarter.

Conway White started a drive at its own 23 with designs on taking its turn at scoring. Bryant’s defense made a stop, however. But, on the first play after the Cats’ punt, the Hornets suffered their second turnover of the game and Conway White had the ball just 32 yards away from a tying touchdown.

Again, however, the defense stepped forward. A fourth-down pass into the end zone was tipped by K.J. Terry and intercepted by Josh Robinson.

Hornets quarterback Randy Thomas wound up running 70 yards for his third touchdown of the night to expand the margin but back came Conway White. Running back Eddie White broke a 30-yard run then appeared to be on his way to a touchdown when Bryant’s Jaylon Dickson refused to give up on the play and hauled him down from behind at the Bryant 8.

Andrew Hayes, right, hauls in a touchdown pass over a Conway White defender. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

Andrew Hayes, right, hauls in a touchdown pass over a Conway White defender. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

In hopes of cashing in then executing an onside kick to get the ball back for a chance to tie, the Cats were held out of the end zone by the Hornets. On third-and-goal at the 7, White had the ball knocked away and Terry recovered at the 1 and ran it out to the 32 with 2:07 left to play.

Keethan Hudson capped off the win with a 33-yard touchdown run with 1:03 left.

“The goal-line stand was huge,” Horn emphasized. “Dickson making that tackle — huge plays. You never can tell. You can make a ton of mistakes then all of a sudden, you make one play and it’s the difference in the ballgame. We made two plays right there, made a play at the end, and took advantage of one of their mistakes. Fortunately for us, it helped us seal the ballgame.

“It was a challenge,” he related, adding of Conway. “Hey, they’re a pretty good football team. We made some mistakes and they took advantage of them and kept it right there.”

Thomas rushed for 228 yards on 15 carries, giving him 1,480 for the season, tying Aspen Trevino’s freshman record set in 2005. Hudson finished with 107 yards on just six tries. Andrew Hayes caught two Thomas passes for 32 yards including a 16-yard touchdown strike. Martin Ramirez was good on all six of his extra points.

After Thomas scored on a 41-yard run on the first snap of the game, Conway White actually did a good job of keeping the Bryant ground game in check. At least, until halftime.

“(Conway) was big but they were giving us some angles, stunting a little bit,” Horn explained. “One little adjustment at halftime for our guys and it showed. It was our blocking scheme we adjusted, one little adjustment with one thing they do with one of their linebackers. And it sprung us. It gave us a clear path to the edge when we executed.

Josh Robinson breaks up a Conway White pass to Will McKenna (40). (Photo by Rick Nation)

Josh Robinson breaks up a Conway White pass to Will McKenna (40). (Photo by Rick Nation)

“We did not execute as cleanly as we have the last two weeks but, when we did execute cleanly, we hung up a touchdown,” he continued. “If we execute, I feel pretty good about our chances against anybody.”

For Conway’s offense, White finished with 92 yards on 12 carries all in the second half. Quarterback Jovoni Johnson completed 7 of 11 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns, both to Nick Richmond, one for 49 yards, which answered Bryant’s first TD. The other came on a 73-yard touchdown on the first snap of the third quarter, tying the game at 21.

With the game tied at 7, the teams actually exchanged punts. But Conway’s Baker Kendrick shanked his. It was so short that one of the Bryant players near the line of scrimmage, apparently thinking it was blocked, tried to grab the ball and advance it. But he couldn’t field it cleanly and Conway recovered and resumed the possession.

In 10 plays, they covered 67 yards with running back Deonte Bennett covering the final 15 yards.

Finding themselves in an unusual spot (trailing), the Hornets didn’t take long to answer. Brandon Jett covered Conway’s onside kick and, in three plays, the Hornets were in the end zone on Hudson’s sparkling 39-yard burst.

The defense forced a three-and-out. Hayes returned Conway’s punt to the Cats’ 47 with 1:32 left in the half.

Three plays netted nothing for the Hornets but Horn decided to go for it on a fourth-and-10. Thomas, picking up a pair of excellent blocks on the outside, picked up the first down with a determined 15-yard run.

Keethan Hudson (3) starts his first touchdown run. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

Keethan Hudson (3) starts his first touchdown run. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

Hayes made a nice run off a short completion to get to the 16 and, after Thomas spiked the ball to stop the clock and Conway took a timeout with :18.1 showing, Thomas found Hayes in the left corner of the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown.

Conway got the ball to start the second half and Richmond got behind the Bryant secondary for the 73-yard touchdown pass that tied the score at 21.

Bryant regained the upper hand less than three minutes later when Thomas sprinted 30 yards for a TD.

On Conway’s subsequent possession, the Cats faced a third-and-3 at their own 30. With Logan Grant and other Hornets bearing down on Johnson, the Conway quarterback just blindly downfield. Will McKenna cleared some space and somehow caught the ball for a 15-yard gain and what would’ve been a first down but he was called for offensive pass interference.

On the second try at third down, Johnson, stalked by Bryant’s Ty Dawson had to hurry his pass and it fell incomplete.

Bryant coach John Orr talks to his defense on the sideline during Thursday night's game. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

Bryant coach John Orr talks to his defense on the sideline during Thursday night’s game. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

The Cats punted but when Thomas and Hudson missed on the handoff, Conway had its second chance as Daviontae Johnson recovered.

Conway picked up a first down behind White but a procedure penalty backed them from the 22 to the 27 then Bryant defensive tackle Josh Salguerio dropped Johnson for a loss.

A pass interference penalty gave the Cats new life. Johnson threw an incomplete pass then had to come out of the game with an equipment problem. Cade White relieved him and tossed a pair of incomplete passes. On fourth down, Johnson returned but Robinson hauled down his pass in the end zone to turn away Conway’s bid to tie it.

Two plays later, Thomas set sail on his 70-yard touchdown run. Conway’s final frustration followed with the fumble inside the 5. Terry dashed for 16 yards then 19 more before Hudson broke the final TD tote.

HORNETS-42

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