Photos by Kevin Nagle
Quarterback Randy Thomas rushed for 199 yards and three touchdowns and threw for 106 yards and another score as the Bryant Hornets freshman team out-dueled the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats, 31-22, on Thursday night.
Playing their second Central Arkansas Junior High Conference power in as many weeks, the Hornets gained a split. The win over North Little Rock came on the heels of a gut-punch loss at Lake Hamilton, 28-24, last week. Bryant improved to 3-1 overall, 2-1 in league play going into a trip to play Conway Blue on Thursday, Oct. 1.
“That’s a good football squad,” declared Hornets coach Kenny Horn in reference to North Little Rock. “That’s a quality win for us. Here or there, beating that team is good.
“We played well,” he stated. “We blocked well tonight. I think, at times, we didn’t tackle real well. We had good pursuit but, I tell you, they’re strong running the football. We executed real clean tonight, minus just a few mistakes and we came out on top.”
Though he didn’t do it alone, of course, Thomas, no doubt, rested well Thursday night after carrying the ball 37 times and going 6 for 8 passing. Thomas was joined in the backfield much of the night by defensive linemen Josh Salguerio and Patrick Karp, who helped clear the way.
“Randy, golly, I don’t feel like anybody on the planet can catch him at this point,” Horn related. “And he’s strong, a big kid. And he’s a great kid. He threw the ball well tonight and we caught the ball well in big situations.
“I don’t think we’re going to make a living throwing,” he added. “We’re going to make it running it. But we’re going to have to be able to throw and catch it when we have to have it. Tonight we did. We made some plays and that’s a credit to our kids.
“Overall, I love every one of these kids,” the coach mentioned. “They’re just a great group of kids. But it’s tough coaching them. And I’m telling you, we ride them hard to get what we can out of them, sometimes I think maybe too hard. But I do appreciate them.”
Bryant jumped to a 16-0 lead, scoring on its first two possessions. On the opening march, Thomas broke a 29-yard run to convert the only third-down play from the North Little Rock 48. He followed up with a 15-yard burst to set up his 6-yard TD run. He also ran in the two-point conversion.
Linebacker Jakob Neel made a strong tackle of fullback Tyler Day on North Little Rock’s first play and, two plays later, Andrew Hayes nearly intercepted a third-down pass.
The Cats punted to the Hornet, who got a nice return from K.J. Terry back to the North Little Rock 30. Thomas’ swing pass to Tyler O’Neal broke for 15 yards. Four totes later, Thomas scored from the 2 then added a run for a conversion to make it 16-0.
North Little Rock had to pass the ball to make much headway on offense and a pair of completions set up its first touchdown. Quarterback Andrew Martin connected with Kennedy Lightner for 44 yards, flipping the field. Hayes saved the touchdown with a last-man tackle at the Bryant 27.
The Cats had to convert a third-down to get another first at the Bryant 14. Salguerio dropped Day for a loss of a yard but Martin found Donald Hammons for 12 yards to set up his 1-yard sneak to make it 16-6 with 5:18 left in the half.
The North Little Rock defense increased the pressure on Bryant’s subsequent possession. From their own 15, the Hornets went backwards. They tried the swing pass to O’Neal again only to have the Cats sniff it out for a loss to the 7.
Thomas followed with a pass that looked like it was headed right into the arms of Jake Wright who appeared to have clear sailing to the end zone. But at the last second, the ball was tipped away by a North Little Rock defensive back.
On the next play, Thomas was trapped in the end zone and dropped for a safety by Maxwell Murry.
The lead was cut to 16-8 and the Hornets had to kickoff to the Cats from their own 20. Martin Ramirez got a great kick away, driving return man Jaccob Perry back to his own 28. But, from there, he knifed through the Bryant coverage and returned it all the way for a touchdown that, with a two-point conversion run by Martin, tied the game at 16 with 4:07 left in the half.
The Cats made it four scores (including the safety) in 2:37 when Tim Thomas recovered a Bryant fumble at the Hornets’ 28. Three plays later, Martin snuck it in from the 1 to give his team a 22-16 lead.
But the Charging Wildcats would not score again the rest of the game.
“I felt like we gave them 16 points right there,” Horn said. “A safety, a touchdown, giving the ball right back. The outcome could’ve been different if we get that ball out (of the end zone) right there. And that’s my fault. We probably should’ve run it out but I wanted to play to win. I wanted to get the first down.”
But the Hornets were resilient. Before the half was over, they’d regained the advantage. The answering 72-yard drive was hampered by a pair of holding penalties, the first of which put them in a second-and-16 hole. But Thomas lofted a pass down the seam to Terry for 35 yards.
Another hold negated a touchdown run from the 12 but they overcame that and, on a third-and-8 from the 11, Thomas found Wright in the back left corner of the end zone for the touchdown with :24.1 showing. Thomas snapped the 22-22 tie with another run for the two-point conversion and the teams went to the half with the score 24-22.
North Little Rock got the ball to start the second half but Ramirez’ kick forced Perry deep and, after scooping up his own fumble, he was only able to get back to the 14. On a second down, Salguerio, Karp and Neel combined to stand up Day for no gain. Terry made a nice tackle on Lightner in the open field after a quick pass to the outside by Martin. He stopped him short of a first down and the Cats had to punt.
Another short kick was returned 13 yards by Hayes and the Hornets were 31 yards away form taking a two-score lead. They got to the 17 but faced a fourth-and-7 after an incomplete pass. But Thomas’ speed and determination produced 15 yards and a first down. He scored on the next play from the 2.
Ramirez kicked the extra point and Bryant led 31-22 with 3:09 left in the third quarter. And that was the end of the scoring.
A 39-ard run by Perry and rash of penalties on the Hornets allowed North Little Rock to drive to the Bryant 9 but Martin had to fall on a fumbled snap, then got dropped for a 3-yard loss. After a motion penalty, the Wildcats faced a third-and-goal from the 28. Two incomplete passes followed and Bryant took over on downs.
Backed up by another holding penalty, Bryant faced a third-and-14 from its own 24 when Thomas threw deep towards Hayes, who made a spectacular grab, out-dueling a defender for the ball at the 50.
The Hornets reached the 33 but more penalties undermined the drive and Thomas punted. Two plays later, however, Martin fumbled and the Hornets’ Jace Orr recovered.
North Little Rock stifled the running game and it looked like the Cats might get another chance but, on a third-and-10 from their own 35, the Hornets took a risk and went to the air. Wright made a splendid catch and ran it down to the Wildcats’ 5, dashing North Little Rock’s last hope.