Last year, the North Little Rock eighth grade team, reunited as one team after playing as Blue and Gold teams before, pinned a 26-6 loss on the Bryant White Hornets eighth grade team of Bryant Middle School and ripped the Bryant Blue Hornets eighth grade team of Bethel Middle School, 38-8.
So, it felt like the two Bryant teams, meshed for their freshman season under head coach Kenny Horn and assistants John Orr, Guy Brown and Blake Ratliff, had a lot of ground to make up if they wanted to win when the Charging Wildcats freshman team visited on Thursday night for a Central Arkansas Junior High Conference showdown between two of the league favorites.
What a difference a year makes.
The Hornets not only made up the ground, they surpassed all expectations by not only defeating the Charging Wildcats but routing them to the tune of a ‘mercy rule’ game, 45-12.
“After we watched some film, we were worried,” allowed Hornets coach Kenny Horn. “They are big. They are physical and they’re athletic. And we were a little nicked up tonight. They’ve got a good crew. I didn’t see us running away with it. No, sir, I did not.”
Knowing North Little Rock would be physical, the Hornets’ coaches challenged the team to match it. And they did.
“Offensive line-wise, defensive line-wise, we were physical,” Horn observed. “We got after it. I thought it was pretty physical for a ninth-grade game. Last year, it was the same way.
“We tried to get edges set and we hurried and we hustled,” he said. “And when we got there, we hit and we tackled. Our kids played extremely well. They were really, really amped up before the game. I think they knew what was at stake and they played like it. We were physical and we made plays.”
Bryant amassed 368 yards of offense while limited North Little Rock to 150, 64 of which came on one play, the Cats’ first touchdown. They would add a TD in the final minute of the contest as well.
Orr, the defensive coordinator, said after the game that he felt going in that his squad could shut out the Cats. And they nearly did.
Early on, however, it looked like it might turn into a track meet. On the opening series, the Hornets came out blazing. Austin Ledbetter who was 10 of 16 for243 yards found River Gregory for 26 yards on a stunning first play. With Xavier Foote and Ledbetter sharing rush duties, Bryant drove to the 3 where, on a fourth down, Ledbetter crashed into the end zone.
Brock Funk added the extra point.
Ledbetter passed for two scores and ran for two more.
On North Little Rock’s first series, Bryant’s Jimyle Harris, who had a tremendous night at defensive tackle, made a tackle for a loss. Harris was one of those trying to take up the slack for the absence of Alec Purdom on the d-line. Out with an injury, Purdom wreaked havoc on the Lake Hamilton Wolves last week.
A play later, the Cats faced a third-and-6. That’s when running back tailback Fredrick O’Donald took a handoff around right end, broke tackles in the backfield and on the edge then downfield as well on the way to the 64-yard touchdown run.
A try for two failed so it was 13-6.
Two plays into the next possession, Bryant had answered. Ledbetter found Myles Aldridge for 21 yards then connected with Gregory for 58 yards and another touchdown. Though the extra point kick was off target, Bryant had increased the advantage.
Once again on North Little Rock’s first play following that TD, Harris made a tackle for a loss, this time on O’Donald. And, this time, the Cats couldn’t overcome it. They punted then held the Hornets to force a punt.
North Little Rock just missed on a long pass from quarterback Kareame Cotton to Randall Abrams, who almost completed a circus catch. The Hornets then stuffed two running plays forcing another punt, which wound up pinning Bryant deep on its own end at the 18.
The subsequent drive started with a false-start penalty so the Hornets were 87 yards from another score.
But they covered it.
Aldridge ran for 5 yards then took a swing pass for 9. Ledbetter kept for a first down at the 31. On the next snap, he found Aldridge, out of the backfield, streaking down the middle of the field alone. His on-the-spot pass resulted in a 69-yard touchdown that gave the Hornets a two-score lead with Funk’s PAT.
“I think that was the biggest series,” Horn. “It chewed up a lot of time on the clock and, even if we wouldn’t have scored, that would’ve been the difference in the ballgame.”
Bryant linebacker Baker Gray recovered a fumble to end the Charging Wildcats’ next try on offense. From 23 yards out, Foote sliced through the North Little Rock defense for a touchdown on the next play.
With cornerback Omari Coates breaking up a deep pass, the Hornets forced a three-and-out. The teams traded punts but, Ledbetter’s kick pinned the Wildcats at their own 12 with 2:16 left in the half. On first down, Cotton tried to swing a pass outside to Abrams but Bryant safety Garrett Wilson jumped the rout, picked off the pass and stepped into the end zone as the lead increased to 32-6.
To start the second half, North Little Rock picked up a first down then O’Donald appeared to break a run of 55 yards that was stopped short of the goal line by Ty Bahnks. But a holding penalty negated the play and, two snaps later, the Cats had to punt again.
Driven back to their own 15, the Hornets drove the 85 yards for more points in seven plays. Ledbetter passes of 26 yards to Aldridge and 12 yards to Hayden Schrader set up the touchdown. Aldridge again got open down the middle though not quite as much. Ledbetter laid up the pass and Aldridge pulled it in with one hand as he reached the end zone for a spectacular TD.
The Hornets’ final score, which made it a mercy-rule game with a running clock, came on the first snap of the fourth quarter as Ledbetter broke a 27-yard run. Funk kicked it to 45-6 with 7:53 left to play.
With reserves filtering in for both teams, North Little Rock grinded out a 65-yard drive that ate up all but the final 36 seconds. Fullback Jeremiah Chancey got into the end zone at that point on a 12-yard run.
Now 4-0 on the season and 3-0 in the conference, the Hornets travel to play Conway Blue next week.