The call went out for “the Big Meats” and defensive linemen Ray Davis and James McClendon reported for duty on offense.
The Bryant Hornets freshman team was clinging to a 12-10 lead over the Catholic Rockets of Little Rock with little more than four minutes left in the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference game Thursday night at Hornets Stadium.
The Hornets had slashed the Rockets defense for big yardage on the ground for much of the night but with time running down, Catholic started stacking seven or eight in the box to try to get the ball back with a chance to win.
So the Hornets were faced with a fourth-and-2. The problem was, they were at their own 28 yard line. If they didn’t make it, the Rockets would have a very short field and, if nothing else, another potential shot at taking the lead with strong-legged kicker Christopher Elser, who had just missed a 34-yard try, a kick that was wide but long enough with plenty to spare.
So the cry went out for Big Meats and the duo came in to flank center Preston Kyzer. Quarterback Michael Jones came up under center and the surge not only got the first down but broke the signal-caller for a 9-yard burst.
But, two plays later, the Hornets faced a third-and-1 at their own 46. McClendon and Davis rejoined the offensive set and, this time, just got enough to extend the drive.
The Hornets wound up not only eating up four of the last 5:34 of the game, they wound up tacking on an insurance touchdown when Jones slices through the Rockets’ defense for a 40-yard scoring bolt.
Still, up by just 8 at 18-10, the Hornets needed to add the extra point to put the game completely out of reach. Despite the fact that his first attempt was interrupted by a Catholic penalty, Luke Welch drilled the PAT, making it a two-possession lead with 1:32 to go.
Moments later, Bryant linebacker Kris King picked off a pass that was desperately flung up by impressive Rockets’ quarterback Nathan Page after he’d been chased back inside his own 10 by Bryant’s Johnny Smith.
The Hornets kept their overall and conference record unblemished with the win. They’re 6-0 and 4-0 going into a trip to Russellville next Thursday, Oct. 16. It’ll be their first road game this year and the first of three weeks in a row away from home.
“Those are two big ol’ guys,” said Bryant coach Kenny Horn of Davis and McClendon. “They’d be big anywhere, at any level. We feel pretty confident that if we can get them in we can get a push for a yard or two.
“I didn’t even hesitate,” he added. “I wanted to get that first down and seal that football game. Sometimes you’ve got to roll the dice. I felt like if we could get that first down and one more, I thought we’d for sure be able to win with a two-point lead. Thankfully, Mike broke one and we kicked that extra point. That was big.”
Bryant actually rushed for a whopping 314 yards on 33 attempts. That’s over nine yards a carry. Running back Diante Woodson slashed for 135 yards on 18 rushes. Jones finished with 127 stripes on 15 tries.
But turnovers in the first half undermined the Hornets’ first two drives and, despite out-gaining the Rockets by twice as much in the first quarter, they trailed 3-0. Though they surged to a 12-3 halftime advantage, they only ran three plays on offense in the third quarter. The wound up with three possessions in the second half, one of those was two plays at the end.
“Some games, you just survive,” stated Bryant coach Kenny Horn. “We did not execute well. We weren’t careful with the football like we normally are. We were sloppy. Defensively, we didn’t play good up front tonight. There were a lot of technique mistakes.
“I thought the offensive line played pretty well,” he related. “(Catholic) kind of stacked the box there at the end and we still came through. I probably should’ve thrown it a few times there at the end but it was close and we were grinding it out so we kind of just wanted to keep it on the ground and get what we could get, see if we could run the clock out. And we did. We got lucky there and scored a touchdown to kind of seal it.”
A fumble on the second play of the game cost Bryant its first series. Catholic’s Tyler Turner recovered. But the Rockets were unable to pick up a first down. Cameron Vail almost intercepted a deep pass on first down. On two subsequent runs, Davis, Brooks Ellis and Ryan Harris made stops.
Elser came on an attempted a 42-yard field goal and, again, had enough leg. But he was off-target.
But the Rockets would have the ball back in short order. Woodson ripped 23 yards on first down, Jones sliced his way for 18 and the Hornets were eventually 24 yards away from a score. A second down pass, however, was underthrown and Elser picked it off inside the 10 and returned out to the Bryant 41. And when a penalty for a late hit was called, the Rockets were set up 26 yards from a touchdown.
The Hornets’ defense made a stand, though, with the help of a timely penalty. Page converted a third down with a 10-yard keeper then a pass interference penalty pushed the ball to the 5. Running back John Rogers was stopped at the 3 to set up a third-and-2.
But a procedure penalty cost the Rockets and when a third-down pass play was broken up, Elser came on a booted a 25-yard field goal.
The Hornets responded. Keyed by a 27-yard gallop by Jones, they drove to the 16. Woodson ran for 15 then, with the Big Meat in the game, Jones snuck it in for the TD.
A try for two failed, leaving it 6-3.
The Rockets responded with a strong drive, reaching the Bryant 38. On third-and-5, Page dropped back to throw and with Ellis bearing down on him, he underthrew his target.
Elser punted the Hornets back to their 9 but they promptly dashed the distance for another touchdown. The impressive 91-yard march took 11 plays. Woodson contributed a pair of 20-yard bursts and Antonio Fuller broke a 34-yard run. Woodson eventually scored from the 5 with :20 showing on the clock.
Again, a conversion attempt went awry, leaving it 12-3 at the half.
But the Rockets opened the second half with a 76-yard scoring drive. The big play was a 45-yard pass from Page to Nicholas Burks. A 17-yard strike to Harry Cummins set up the scoring run by Page on a keeper.
So when the Hornets went three-and-out, Catholic got the ball back at midfield with a chance to take the lead. The Rockets powered their way to the 17 but Johnny Smith and Davis made consecutive stops for no gain. A third-down pass fell incomplete and Elser came on again to attempt a field goal from 34 yards out that would’ve given his team the lead with less than six minutes left in the game.
The Hornets got the ball at the 20 and put together the clinching touchdown drive.
“Overall, I’m not real happy with the way we played but I’m happy we won,” Horn stated. “Hopefully, Monday, we’re going to have an attitude adjustment and see if we can’t get some attentions.”
HORNETS 19, ROCKETS 10
Score by quarters
Catholic 3 0 7 0 — 10
BRYANT 0 12 0 7 — 19
CATHOLIC — Elser 25 field goal, 0:47.7
BRYANT — Jones 1 run (pass failed), 6:23
BRYANT — Woodson 5 run (run failed), 0:20.0
CATHOLIC — Page 5 run (Elser kick), 2:53
BRYANT — Jones 40 run (Welch kick), 1:32
First downs 8 18
Rushes-yds 25-98 33-314
Passing 3-9-1 0-1-1
Passing yds 76 0
Punts-avg 1-29.0 1-32.0
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-1
Penalties-yds 10-41 5-45
Rushing: BRYANT, Woodson 18-135, Jones 15-127, Fuller 4-52; CATHOLIC, Rogers 12-48, Page 5-25, Bisceglia 3-15, Rahbany 5-10.
Passing (C-A-I-Y): BRYANT, Jones 0-1-1-0; CATHOLIC, Page 3-9-1-76.
Receiving: CATHOLIC, Burks 1-45, Cummins 1-17, Roach 1-14.