Five first-half TD passes highlight freshman Hornets’ scoring blitz

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

Hayden Schrader (40) juggles a pass in the end zone that teammate Austin Schroeder (87) wound up catching for a touchdown. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

As dominant as they’ve been in recent years, only three times has a Bryant Hornets freshman team gone undefeated. The 2017 version has the chance now to become the fourth after improving to 9-0 with a 48-0 thrashing of the Conway White Wampus Cats on Thursday night at Bryant Stadium.

The previous undefeated seasons were in 2016, 2011 and 2007. And, in 2007, the team had a tie.

As dominant as those other unbeaten teams were, none was so much as this year’s squad. Only once this season have the Hornets not finished the game with the “mercy rule” in effect and that was in a 25-0 victory over Cabot North to start the campaign. (Their 9-0 mark includes a forfeit by Little Rock Fair in week one.)

They’ve now eclipsed 40 points in six games. In a seventh, a 35-7 win over Russellville, they led 35-0 at the half and head coach Kenny Horn called off the dogs, getting everybody some playing time. Their average score in eight games decided on the field? 42-7.

Austin Ledbetter tossed five touchdowns passes in the first half of Thursday’s 48-0 win over Conway White. (Photo by Rick Nation)

Thursday’s victory clinched at least a tie for the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference championship. A win at Benton on Tuesday in the season finale would clinch it outright. It is the fourth year in a row that Bryant has won or shared the league title — a stretch in which Hornets’ teams have gone 37-2.

Against Conway White, Bryant scored in typical lightning fashion, putting up 21 points in the first quarter. Quarterback Austin Ledbetter completed only five passes in the game but all five of them went for touchdowns. Austin Schroder caught two, River Gregory caught two and Hayden Schrader caught one.

The Hornets averaged 32.6 yards per completion and, with 184 yards rushing on 18 attempts, 10 yards per run.

Meanwhile, the defense held Conway White to 128 yards total offense, forced two turnovers and nearly caught the Cats for a safety. Conway crossed the 50 just twice, getting no closer to the goal line than 20 yards out.

Bryant scored on the second play of the game. Ledbetter tossed to Gregory on a crossing route and the speedy receiver turned it into a 66-yard touchdown. Brock Funk’s extra point made it 7-0, 33 seconds into the game.

Brayden Godwin (38) and Rodricho Martin stop Conway White’s Jamaal Bethune. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

Conway White’s best scoring opportunity came on its first possession. On the first play, quarterback Ben Weese threw to Micah Mosby for 40 yards — the longest play of the night for the Cats.

At the Bryant 29, running back Darrius Allison picked up 8 to make it second-and-2 at the Bryant 21. And the Wampus Cats were stumped right there.

A second-down run by Jamaal Bethune was stopped for a loss by Brayden Godwin. Bethune got back 2 yards on third down, setting up a fourth-and-1 at the 20. Allison got the call and was stuffed by the Hornets, led by linebacker Connor Coleman and Jimyle Harris.

Kyle Shorter brings down Conway White quarterback Ben Weese in the end zone as teammates LaQuav Brumfield (16) and Rodricho Martin (26) arrive. (Photo by Rick Nation)

Bryant took over on downs and drove for another touchdown on five plays. Myles Aldridge broke a 23-yard run and, a play later, Ledbetter scrambled for 17. From the 33, Ledbetter found Schrader in the end zone but Schrader juggled the ball and lost it only to have Schroeder, trailing the play, pluck it out of the air for the touchdown.

On the ensuing kickoff, Funk lofted a high short kick that the Hornets nearly got to as fast as any of the Cats could. Jason Cruz tried to field it but coughed it up as he was hit by Joseph Young at about the same time he grabbed the ball. It came loose and Schrader wound up with it at the Conway White 41.

Hayden Schrader steps into the end zone for a touchdown. (Photo by Rick Nation)

Aldridge dashed for 22 yards but three plays later, the Hornets faced a fourth-and-12 at the Cats’ 21. Ledbetter found Schrader for the touchdown then added a run for a two-point conversion to make it 21-0.

Conway White managed a first down on the ensuing series. Moments later, the Cats faced a third-and-2 at their 46. Bryce Bohanan, however, was dropped short of the first down by Noah Davis, forcing a punt.

A holding penalty undermined the Hornets’ possession and they were forced to punt for the only time all night. And, much to the Wampus Cats’ disappointment, Ledbetter turned over the field position with a 59-yard boot.

From the 6, Conway White went nowhere. On a third-and-6, Weese was hit at the 1 and yanked down in the end zone by Kyle Shorter. The officials gave him his forward progress and the Wampus Cats were given the chance to punt it away.

But the short kick left the Hornets just 15 yards from another score. They covered it in four plays with Gregory taking a shovel pass from Ledbetter 7 yards for the touchdown.

River Gregory (4) heads up the sideline on his way to Bryant’s first touchdown. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

A bad snap on the extra-point attempt left it 27-0.

Safety Garrett Wilson made a tackle for a loss during Conway White’s next possession and, with less than 30 seconds left, the Cats had to punt. Another short kick gave Bryant great field position but only :23.2 to work with.

They didn’t need all of that as Ledbetter fired to Schroeder for the touchdown on the first play. Funk’s PAT made it 34-0 at the half.

Godwin recovered a fumble at midfield on the third play of the third quarter, setting up the touchdown that put the game in mercy-rule territory. Ledbetter broke a 34-yard run and, a play later, Aldridge sliced his way into the end zone from 16 yards out. Funk kicked it to 41-0 with 5:27 still to play in the third quarter.

Austin Schroeder caught two touchdown passes in Thursday’s game. (Photo by Rick Nation)

With reserves filtering into the lineup for Bryant, Conway White drove to the Hornets’ 33. But Christian Crosby made a stop for no gain then Shorter sacked Weese for a loss of 12. A play later, a fourth-down pass fell incomplete and the Hornets had the ball back.

After a 15-yard run by Xavier Foote and a 15-yard penalty for a late tackle out of bounds, Khylon Rawls covered 35 yards in four carries, scoring from 9 yards out with 2:55 left in the contest. Funk’s PAT set the final score.

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