Photos by Kevin Nagle
The Bryant White Hornets eight grade team of Bryant Middle School scored on two of its first three possessions in their season opener at Bryant Stadium Tuesday night. But a kickoff return for a touchdown, some clutch pass completions and a blitzing defense turned the tide as the Little Rock Horace Mann Bearcats eighth grade team came from behind for a 22-12 win.
Mann’s aggressive defense forced lost yardage on 13 of the Hornets’ total of 24 offensive snaps in the game. Bryant White quarterback Aiden Adams completed 6 of 7 passes in the game, including all five of his attempts in the first half but rarely had time to get his throws away in the second half.
As for the Bearcats’ clutch passes, quarterback Landon Rogers only completed three of his eight throws but two of them went for touchdowns and the third got the team out of a considerable hole as the Hornets were building momentum at the end of the third quarter. Each of the completions went to Madison Peaster.
The kickoff return just after the Hornets’ second score. Deangelo Smith Jr. went 78 yards to get his team’s first points of the night with 4:25 left in the first half.
Bryant began to build its early lead with a solid drive to start the game. Myles Aldrige, who rushed for 115 yards on just six totes, picked up 11 on the first play. Adams followed up with a 27-yard aerial to Blaine Sears.
Though the Bearcats got through for the first tackle for a loss, Adams followed up with a 12-yard toss to Austin Ledbetter. On third down, the quarterback tossed a lateral to Adams who dashed 12 yards to the 5.
Two plays later, Coleman powered into the end zone to make it 6-0.
Horace Mann’s first series was undercut when Coleman and Chance Clendening stopped a second down run by Marwin Edwards II for a loss. The Bearcats wound up having to punt and when the kick was a short one, the Hornets had the ball back 36 yards away from another score.
But three consecutive plays lost yardage and Bryant White turned the ball over on downs at midfield.
The Bearcats picked up their initial first down on an 11-yard burst from Smith to convert a third down. On the next play, however, Smith fumbled and Clendening recovered for Bryant White at the Hornets’ 28.
It took one play from there as Aldrige got to the corner and sprinted 72 yards for the TD that made it 12-0 with 4:41 left in the half.
“We were able to get to the edge,” said Hornets coach Josh Fonville. “Early on, we had tempo. That was the key for us, tempo, getting the ball down quick, getting set quick. But, in the second half — we’re just not in good enough shape right now. That caught up to us a little bit. So we weren’t able to do that.”
Smith made up for his fumble by returning the subsequent kickoff for a touchdown.
And when a holding penalty and two lost-yardage plays forced the Hornets to punt, the Bearcats were in good field position with 1:55 left in the half.
Runs of 21 and 16 yards by Keith Green Jr., gave Mann a chance. The Hornets stuffed him on his next carry but that’s when Rogers first connected with Peaster. And it went for a 13-yard touchdown pass. Edwards ran in the conversion and suddenly the Hornets trailed 14-12 with 0:39.2 showing on the clock.
An 18-yard pass from Adams to Ledbetter gave the Hornets hope of answering before the half. Aldrige then nearly broke loose again but he was driven down after a 22-yard run to the Mann 33 off a reverse. The half ended after Peaster’s touchdown-saving tackle.
Another good return on the second-half kickoff — this time by Johnathan Benson Jr. — put Horace Mann just 34 yards away from another score. Luke Blacklaw dropped Smith for a loss on first down and a delay penalty put the Bearcats in a second-and-16 hole. But Green flashed for 18 yards and a new set of downs.
A play later, Rogers and Peaster hooked up again, this time on a 21-yard touchdown pass. Still, the Hornets would only be a touchdown and a two-point conversion away from tying it until Green ran in the two-point conversion to make it 10-point game.
Adams appeared to have completion to Blacklaw but a big hit jarred the ball loose and it was ruled incomplete. The next two plays fell victim to the Bearcats’ blitz and the Hornets were forced to punt.
Another short kick set up Mann at midfield. After picking up a first down at the 37, however, the Bearcats were pushed back. A delay penalty helped then a fumble that resulted in an 8-yard loss made it third-and-20 back at the 50.
That’s when Rogers looked for Peaster again. This time, he appeared to be well covered by a pair of Hornets. But the receiver stepped around one and in front of the other to haul in the pass. The completion was good for 21 yards, just enough for the first down.
Though penalties — one of which cost the Bearcats a touchdown — and a bad snap that cost them 19 yards undermined Mann’s efforts to extend the drive into the end zone, they ate time. When Ledbetter intercepted a fourth-down pass from Rogers at the Bryant 20, there was just 4:14 left to score twice for the win.
Adams swung a pass to Aldrige for 10 yards but three plays later, on a fourth-and-10 from their own 30, Adams was sacked and Horace Mann took over on downs. The Bearcats proceeded to drain the clock with their ground game to close out the win.
Asked what his team will be focusing on in practice before they return to play on Thursday, Sept. 15, against Lake Hamilton, Fonville said, “We’ve got to block. We’ve got to be able to block.”
Regarding the blitz, he added, “We haven’t worked on that as much as we should have as far as the blocking scheme. We have a good blocking scheme. In fact, it’s an easy one for us, a zone-blocking scheme. However, we’ve got to be able to get our back to step up in there and help out, pick up that blitzing back.
“We’ll work on that a lot and get ready for next week, for sure,” he asserted.
“Defensively, aggressiveness,” the coach continued. “I was pretty shocked at how unaggressive we were. We have the athletes but, again, I think it was the second half and we’re not in shape and we stopped bringing it. We were hitting the first half. Second half, we were just tired and it showed, particularly on defense.”