Free-kick fun helps spark Hornets to win at Conway
EDITOR’S NOTE: In this time of COVID-19, with no sports action, BryantDaily.com will be posting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By Rob Patrick
Photos by Kevin Nagle
CONWAY — At first, the Conway Wampus Cat soccer fans were laughing. But in a flash, they[more] were stunned into silence.
With around 21 minutes left in the first half of a scoreless contest between the Bryant Hornets and the Wampus Cats, Bryant was awarded a free kick on the left side about 24 yards away from the goal. The Hornets lined up with Ben Stukenborg, Ryan Watson and Bryce Denker lined up around the ball.
“A lot of times on free kicks, teams will have players cross over, that way the opponent doesn’t know if (the kick) is coming left or right footed,” explained Hornets coach Jason Hay. “It’s so the keeper doesn’t know which way to go.”
To the end, Stukenborg lined up facing the goal with Denker to his left and Watson to his right. The chuckles occurred when the two crossed over, ran smack into each other and fell sprawling to the turf at John McConnell Stadium. If that didn’t win an Academy Award, then Stukenborg should’ve as he reacted with palms outstretched as if to say, “What are you guys doing?”
But as he was doing that, Stukenborg approached the ball and sent a bullet of a pass inside where Alex Rowlan was awaiting. No one moved but Rowlan who drilled the ball into the net to the game’s first goal.
It was all choreographed by Hay and executed to a tee by his players. And it left the Conway fans and players dazed and confused. Conway coach Robert Irons was incensed.
“It was awesome,” declared Hay, a Conway alum. “I love it.”
The play, which the team has been practicing since spring break, spurred the Hornets to a 3-0 win over the Wampus Cats. It was the first of two goals by Rowlan. Reed Evans provided the other goal.
The victory, their first on the road in conference play this season, improved the Hornets to 11-10-1 overall and 6-6 in the 7A/6A-Central Conference. They moved into a virtual tie with Conway for the fourth seed from the league to State. They’ll have a chance to catching Cabot for the No. 3 seed on Thursday when the Panthers come to Bryant for Senior Night. The Hornets finish out at North Little Rock on Monday.
“The frustrating thing about soccer is I don’t get to draw any plays up,” admitted Hay, who coaches wide receivers for the Hornets football team. “That’s a fun part of it. Over spring break, I started looking through trick free kicks and stuff. You know, in football, when we always do that where we pull somebody in and coming out, kind of a deception, getting everybody to look at everything else and then throwing it. I though, well, if I just had them run into each other, everybody would stop.”
And that’s what happened.
“The keeper didn’t move,” Hay noted.
“When we tried it in practice, I got the four guys that are involved and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to try it and see what happens,” he continued. “Nobody moved and they were shocked.”
It actually wasn’t the first time the Hornets had used the play in a game.
“We tried it (Monday) at Van Buren and we got a bad pass in the rain,” Hay mentioned. “But tonight, it was beautiful. It was perfect. It fired the guys up and, you know, in football when you get a trick play on somebody that quick, it just stabs you in the heart. It helped us. It got us going.”
The Hornets were coming in off a disappointing loss at Van Buren, a team below them in the conference standings. So they came out aggressively in the first half and controlled the tempo.
“When you get your butt whupped after a three-hour down-and-back trip — we needed this game,” Hay said. “We want to improve our seeding. We want to be at least as good as last year (a three seed).
“Not winning on the road in conference has been frustrating,” he added. “We’ve had some close ones. Last night was frustrating. And, hopefully, we can get rid of this every-other-game deal we’ve been on. With Senior Night Thursday, obviously, we want to send the seniors out at home with a victory against Cabot. But every time we play Cabot, it’s close.”
The Hornets have only won back-to-back games once this season.
Bryant could’ve had a few more goals Tuesday. In the opening minutes, Stukenborg found the net but the goal was negated by an offside call. With about 17 minutes left in the first half, they got a pair of shots from point-blank range. Chase Stuart’s shot was deflected by the Conway keeper. Forrest Fowler got to the ricochet but his follow shot sailed over the crossbar.
Evans’ goal came off a nice drive and a hesitation move with just under 10 minutes left in the first half. His shot bounced of the left post and in to make it 2-0.
With around four minutes left, Evans got a free kick to Rowlan whose shot was knocked away by the keeper. Evans followed but his shot was knocked away by a group of lunging Wampus Cats including the keeper in front of the goal.
Conway was more aggressive for most of the second half but the Bryant defense would not relent. Jace Denker, Bryant’s keeper, had four or five saves down the stretch.
“Caleb Garrett was hurt so I stuck Davis Nossaman, who’s a freshman out there,” Hay mentioned. “This is his first year to play soccer since he was in sixth grade but he did an excellent job of being composed. He was nervous. I was proud of him.
“We tried a couple of new things,” he added. “Bryce Denker had been playing forward. We moved him back to the mid and put Rowlan up top and I think that helped us out. Rowlan’s got a little bit more speed and Bryce is exceptional handling the ball but lacks a little of that speed. So he dishes it out a little bit better. We may stick with that.”
Rowlan’s second goal came at the 25 minute mark of the second half. He was driving left across the top of the box, covered tightly by a Conway defender. But he whipped a left-footed shot back against the grain and into the lower right corner of the goal.
“Overall, I thought we did what we did against Catholic,” Hay stated, referring to the team’s win over the top team in the conference the week before.
“We came out and we wanted to win and we’ve just got to do that every game. You’ve got to maintain that. We can’t just wait to do that when we’ve gotten beat and we’re embarrassed. We’ve got to do that every game and I think once we figure that out, we’ll be all right.”
The Class 7A State Tournament for the boys will begin Friday, May 13, at North Little Rock.