Despite turnovers, penalties, injuries, Hornets persevere past Tigers

For more photos from this event by Rick Nation, go here

LITTLE ROCK — A lesser team would’ve been in a bind.

Randy Thomas crosses the goal line to finish off a 29-yard touchdown pass. (Photo by Rick Nation)

Despite 10 penalties and three turnovers — two that set up touchdowns for the opposition and another that undermined a drive inside the 5 — plus a pair of key injuries, the Bryant Hornets found a way to extract a 35-20 victory over a fired up Little Rock Central Tigers team at Bernie Cox Field in Quigley Stadium on Friday night.

The Hornets remained unbeaten at 6-0 overall and improved to 3-0 in the 7A-Central Conference. But they may have some issues to deal with.

Remarkably healthy through five weeks, the Hornets’ junior quarterback Ren Hefley came out of the game after being sacked with around 10 minutes left in the game. His left shoulder was iced down and his arm was wrapped across his torso to keep it immobilized. In addition, senior center Preston Kyzer was on the sideline and it appeared he was going through concussion protocols.

Johnny Wallace (33) hangs on to an ankle while Mike Jones (5) completes the tackle as Josh Salguerio (92) arrives to help. (Photo by Rick Nation)

Hefley, who started most of his sophomore season and was 75-of-120 (62 percent) for 1,279 yards and 15 touchdowns, was 21 of 39 for 213 yards and a TD pass when he came out. Sophomore Jake Meaders took over. He hit two big passes in Bryant’s clinching touchdown drive then was in the game at the end when the Hornets drove to the 2 before stalling.

Junior running back LaTavion Scott rushed for 156 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, while starting safety Cameron Vail added two TD runs in the “wildcat” out of the Hornets’ short-yardage jumbo package.

Vail, who never missed a moment of practice all week despite the sudden death of his mother, was the lone captain for the Hornets who usually send three or four captains out for the coin toss at the start of games.

Martin Ramirez kicks an extra point. (Photo by Rick Nation)

It was a game of fits and starts with all the penalties (19 between them) and a total of 72 passes thrown between the two teams.

Central had to pass a lot because they could get nothing on the ground against a physical Bryant defense. The Tigers netted just 6 yards rushing on 19 tries. Their longest run from scrimmage was a 7-yard scramble by Howard in the second quarter.

In the air, Howard was 12 of 31 for 193 yards and three scores.

Bryant scored on its first possession of the game. A 28-yard run by Scott set up his 2-yard plunge. The drive included a pair of swing passes from Hefley to Ja’Kalon Pittman who grabbed 10 passes for 103 yards in the game.

After forcing another punt, Bryant was driving again but from the Central 44, a third-and-7 became a third-and-12 after a false start penalty. A play later, the Hornets were forced to punt and the result was the first turnover as Vail, the Bryant punter, tried to field a low snap. The ball got away and the Tigers’ Lawrence Gregory recovered.

On first down at the Bryant 34, the Tigers struck quickly. Howard tossed a touchdown pass to Antonio Brown.

LaTavion Scott steps into the end zone on one of his two touchdown runs. (Photo by Rick Nation)

But the Hornets retained the lead when the extra-point kick ricocheted off the left goal-post, no good.

The Hornets answered with a 70-yard march in 14 plays. Along the way, they converted twice on fourth downs on runs by Scott and Vail. From the 4, Vail scored but a holding penalty negated the play. But a play later, Scott pounded into the end zone for the touchdown. Ramirez kicked it to 14-6 with 19 seconds left in the first quarter.

After forcing a three-and-out, Bryant added to the advantage. A 37-yard tunnel screen from Hefley to Randy Thomas set up Vail’s 3-yard score.

It looked like that might be the halftime score as the teams traded punts. With 4:29 left in the half, the Hornets put together a drive from its own 20 to the Central 38. The longest play of the drive was a 10-yard run by Vail to convert a fourth-and-2.

With a second-and-10 at the Tigers’ 38, however, Hefley had a pass tipped at the line of scrimmage. Central linebacker Joseph Lewis caught the deflection for an interception, returning to the Bryant 43.

A pass interference penalty helped get the subsequent scoring drive in gear. A third-down conversion on a pass from Howard to Richardson reached the Bryant 16. From there, the duo combined again for a touchdown. Keeling Baker’s extra point made it 21-13 with :44 left in the half.

Bryant got the ball to start the third quarter. A shovel pass from Hefley to Pittman picked up 14 yards and started the drive to the Central 13. After an 11-yard pass to Pittman reached the 13, penalties on both teams were marked off, leaving the Hornets with a first down at the 17.

Bryant head coach Buck James is interviewed by Genni Causey of Fox Sports Arkansas after Friday’s game. (Photo by Rick Nation)

With Vail running the “wildcat”, the Tigers, who had started blitzing, jarred the ball loose and recovered at the 14.

The Hornets got the ball back in short order, thanks in part to a strong defensive play by linebacker Jake Wright to sniffed out a third-down screen pass and broke up the pass with a big hit.

Murray who returned kicks well all night for Bryant, got a 13-yard run on the ensuing punt, giving his team great field position and the Hornets covered the 42 yards to the end zone on five plays. Luke Curtis made a tough catch on a third-and-4 to just get enough for a first down to keep the drive alive. A play later, Thomas got free down the right sideline and Hefley found him for a 29-yard touchdown toss that made it a two-score lead again, 28-13.

Catrell Wallace and Wright had tackles for losses as Central went three-and-out again. The Hornets threatened to score again, driving to the Tigers’ 28. A shovel pass to Pittman on a fourth-and-16 at the 34, came up just short at the 20.

The Hornets got the ball back when, after the Tigers were forced to punt twice due to penalties, a third try resulted in a snap over Howard’s head. He scrambled back to the 35 where Bryant took over.

The drive went nowhere and, when the Hornets went for it on fourth-and-6 at the Central 31, Hefley was sacked by Gregory, hurting his shoulder.

Bryant linebacker Jakob Neel made a stop for no gain and the Tigers were unable to pick up a first down. They punted back and, with 8:43 left, Meaders took over at quarterback.

Scott’s 17-yard burst converted a third down. A play later, Meaders completed back-to-back passes. Thomas caught the first for 3 yards then Scott latched onto a pass on a curl route that he turned into a 25-yard gain to the 20.

Braylon Butler’s 11-yard run set up Vail’s 7-yard keeper and Ramirez added the PAT to make it 35-13.

Howard, who hadn’t completed a pass to that point in the second half, completed three on the subsequent possession. The big play was a 49-yard catch and run by Demarcus Yancy when the Bryant defender went for an interception. Yancy would’ve scored but for the hustle of Andrew Hayes, who ranged from the hashmark on the other side of the field to track Yance down at the 17.

And the Hornets made a bid at a stand. Nate Wallace sacked Howard. Two passes fell incomplete after that setting up a fourth-and-12 at the 19.

Howard found Yancy this time for the touchdown to make it 35-20 with 2:55 left to play.

Central flubbed the onside kick, twice fielding the ball before it had gone the required 10 yards. The Hornets decided to take the ball at the Central 41. Sophomore Ahmad Adams rumbled 36 yards as the Hornets drove to the 2. A motion penalty pushed them back to the 7. A play later, on a fourth-and-goal at the 4, Vail was stopped short with just over a minute left.

Up next for the Hornets, it’s Homecoming next Friday against the Fort Smith Southside Mavericks.



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