There’s a long Hornets’ blue wall in a hallway of the Bryant High School fieldhouse. It’s adorned with a row of impressive plaques commemorating a string of conference championships. The Bryant Hornets had designs on requiring someone to move those plaques to make room for another one when they took on the rival Conway Wampus Cats on Friday night.
But, unfortunately for the 2014 Hornets, those plaques will remain in the same spots as the unbeaten Wampus Cats stayed unbeaten and the Hornets suffered their first loss of the year. The 24-10 victory produced the league title for Conway along with a number one seed in the Class 7A playoffs and the first-round bye that goes with it.
Despite being denied the conference crown, the Hornets still have plenty to look forward to as they too advance to the playoffs. They’ll host Springdale Har-Ber, the fifth-seeded team from the West, next Friday and, with that, a chance at a little redemption.
Behind a massive offensive line and hard-charging running by Kevin Chamorro and Mark Odom, the Wampus Cats piled up 313 yards rushing against a Bryant defense that had only surrendered more that 200 yards on the ground to a single team all season (Little Rock Central picked up 215 in a 28-10 loss to the Hornets) and had held five teams under 100.
Chamorro chewed up 242 yards of that himself on 33 carries.
Actually, in holding Conway to just 24 points, the Bryant defense did better than eight of the Cats’ previous nine foes had managed, matching the low of 24 they had scored against Cabot in their season-opening game.
The problem was that the Conway defense, with just one returning starter, proved to be better than advertised, holding the Hornets, who came into the game as the most prolific rushing offense in the 7A/6A-Central Conference, to just 168 yards on the ground and 227 yards overall.
“They played really well,” acknowledged Bryant coach Paul Calley. “(Conway’s) Coach (Clint) Ashcraft told me after the game they got a couple of guys back (from injury) and they played really good. They played tough.”
Having given the Conway defense its due, Calley acknowledged that his team did things completely out of character based on the rest of the season, contributing to the night’s frustrations.
“We popped a couple of runs but anytime we did do something well, something to put ourselves in good position to score and get momentum, we did something to take away from it,” the coach explained. “We’d have some type of penalty; we had a bad snap; a bad handoff; we eat the ball instead of throwing it away. Just things you shouldn’t do in week 10; things you can’t do week 10.
“Defensively, we get them stopped,” he continued. “We hold them to a field goal try and we jump offsides; and one time on a punt. We talked about it all week. You’ve got to communicate. You’ve got to make sure we don’t jump offsides on a punt. But then we jump offsides on a punt.
“We couldn’t get lined up right. It’s not like (Conway) ran a plethora of formations. We’ve got the smartest guys on the team that can’t get us lined up. It doesn’t make sense. Either you’re not focused or you’re not too concerned about it.
“It’s uncharacteristic,” asserted Calley. “And they weren’t tight. We didn’t beat them up about it all week. We didn’t put a lot of pressure on them. We wanted to go into this thing loose.”
The coach took it on himself, saying, “It’s a lack of discipline, which all reverts back to me. It’s all on me; a lack of character and a lack of discipline.”
Not only did the Hornets wind up on the wrong side of a final score for the first time this year, they found themselves trailing an opponent by more than 7 points for the first time all season.
“We did not respond (to the adversity),” Calley stated. “You know, we’ve been ahead all year. We had the same thing happen last year a couple of times. We get down and we lose our minds, just can’t handle the adversity — and again tonight.
“As long as we’re ahead, everything’s going good,” he added in frustration. “Everybody’s a frontrunner. But the first time something turns bad then we want to point fingers and make excuses. It doesn’t work that way in life and it doesn’t work that way in football.
“We’ve got another shot next week,” he acknowledged. “I hope we represent ourselves a little bit better next week than we did tonight.”
The Wampus Cats set the tone on the first possession of the game, ramming 81 yards in nine plays, all on the ground. Odom, who finished with 59 yards on 12 totes with two touchdowns, skirted the right side on a 15-yard run the first points.
Brad Stroud, one of Bryant’s defensive coaches, indicated that the defense got on its heels and just wasn’t as aggressive as usual.
Still then slowed down the Wampus Cats enough to force punts on its next two possession. The Hornets’ offense, however, didn’t have any better results.
As the second quarter unfolded, however, the Hornets, sparked by a 12-yard run by Savonte Turner and a 38-yard burst by quarterback Brandan Warner, reached the Conway 30.
But one of those penalties Calley mentioned occurred at that point and, along with a 2-yard loss on a tackle of Warner by Conway linebacker Kaylan Pouncy on the next play, the threat was torpedoed. A loss of 6 on a second-down swing pass from Warner to Aaron Orender set up another punt.
The Hornets quickly went from being on the verge of perhaps tying the game to falling behind further. Chamorro broke a 67-yard run on which Bryant’s Drew Tipton hustled from the opposite side of the field to prevent a touchdown. As it was, they reached the Bryant 13.
A play later, Conway got a huge break when it appeared that Bryant linebacker Ben Bruick had yanked the ball out of the arms of running back Dartanian Thompson inside the 5. The Hornets celebrated the turnover but it was ruled that Thompson’s forward progress had stopped and the whistle had blown before Bruick had dislodged the football.
On the very next play, Chamorro crashed in from the 4 and Conway held a 14-0 lead.
The Hornets picked up a first down on the subsequent possession but stalled near midfield. Punter Alex Denker pinned the Cats inside the 5.
Keyed by a 39-yard pass completion from Breylyn Smith to Brock Mitchell, the Cats drove to the Bryant 25 where the Hornet defense held, forcing a 42-yard field goal attempt by Matt Cummins.
But the Hornets jumped offside and it gave Conway a first down. Again, however, Bryant forced a field goal attempt just moments after safety Brenden Young just couldn’t quite hold onto a interception.
Cummins drilled the kick to make it 17-0, a score that held until halftime.
Bryant got the ball first in the third quarter but couldn’t manage a first down and when Denker shanked the punt, Conway was just 28 yards from adding to its lead. Though it took eight plays against the stubborn Bryant defense, the Cats managed to complete the drive with Odom’s 7-yard touchdown run.
With 6:04 left in the third quarter, the Hornets’ offense came to life, driving from its own 27 to paydirt, using 11 plays. Turner contributed a 12-yard run then caught a third-down pass for 7 yards and a first. The drive reached the 30 where its continuation was threatened by a holding penalty.
Facing a first-and-21 at the Conway 41, the Hornets overcame. Quinton Royal hauled in a Warner pass to the 29 and, on the next play, Turner darted, spun and powered the distance for the touchdown.
The Wampus Cats moved the ball just enough to help punter Grant Ellis boot the Hornets back to their own 14. Warner found Evan Lee for 7 yards but, on the next play, had to scramble to keep the play alive. He wound up throwing the ball away only to be hit with a late intentional grounding penalty.
Moments later, Denker was punting again.
Conway went three-and-out thanks in part to a tackle for a loss by Connor Chapdelaine. Ellis, however, punted Bryant back to its 7 with 6:32 left to play. The Hornets responded with a long drive, aided by three pass interference penalties against Conway. They reached the Cats’ 5 and, after a timeout with 3:12 left, tried a trick play, the venerable swinging gate. But the snap hit the turf and in the scramble before fullback Demaja Price recovered it, Bryant lost 17 yards.
It went from a second-and-goal at the 5 to a second-and-goal at the 22. Needing three scores to tie, Calley had Denker come in to kick a 38-yard field goal with just 2:52 to play.
Bryant tried to get the ball back with an onside kick but Conway covered it and ran out the clock to nail down the win.
Bruick and Young each finished with 14 tackles to lead the Hornets’ defense. Mario Waits was in on seven as was Chapdelaine.
Here are the rest of the stats:
WAMPUS CATS 24, HORNETS 10
Score by quarters
Conway 7 10 7 0 — 24
BRYANT 0 0 7 3 — 10
CONWAY — Odom 15 run (Cummins kick), 8:21
CONWAY — Chamorro 4 run (Cummins kick), 7:46
CONWAY — Cummins 33 field goal, 1:41
CONWAY — Odom 7 run (Cummins kick), 6:13
BRYANT — Turner 29 run (Denker kick), 1:40
BRYANT — Denker 38 field goal, 2:52
First downs 18 15
Rushing-yds 48-313 32-168
Passing 3-10-0 9-22-0
Passing yds 62 47
Punts-avg. 4-39.3 7-33.9
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-0
Penalties-yds 6-71 6-35
Rushing: BRYANT, Turner 9-87, Warner 17-40, Boyle 2-20, Terry 3-19, Burks 1-2; CONWAY, Chamarro 33-242, Odom 12-59, Thompson 1-9, Smith 2-3.
Passing (C-A-I-Y): BRYANT, Warner 9-22-0-59; CONWAY, Smith 3-10-0-62.
Receiving: BRYANT, Turner 2-17, Kelly 2-12, Lee 2-7, Orender 2-(-1), Royal 1-12; CONWAY, Mitchell 2-53, Johnson 1-9.