The undefeated Bryant Hornets freshman team appeared to be on its way to a clinching touchdown against the Conway White Wampus Cats on Thursday night at Bryant Stadium. They had a third-and-5 at the Cats’ 6 and quarterback Cory Nichols had just completed a pass to Braylon Brown, who appeared to be on his way to the end zone.
But someone poked the ball out of Brown’s hands and Conway White’s Collin Goodman scooped it up and returned it 98 yards for a touchdown.
Despite the fact that the Cats’ two-point conversion was moved out to the 17, due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the return, they managed to add the two-point conversion on a pass from Sam Gregg to Jayden Hughes.
Suddenly, the Hornets’ lead was a tenuous 21-16 with 4:36 left in the game. By far, it was the closest contest the Bryant freshmen had experienced this season. And the first time one of their games was in doubt so late in the game.
After all, in the eight previous games, the Hornets had held opponents to a total of 15 points. So, Conway White’s 16 doubled that on one night.
And the Cats had a chance to surge into the lead if they could get a quick stop and drive for another score. On onside kick failed as John Ede covered it for the Bryant.
But Hornets coach Kenny Horn and offensive coordinator Guy Brown put the onus on the offensive line of Kyle Glymp, Gunnar Givens, Cannon Starke, Peyton Sipes and Lawson Hutchins and, in nine plays, all on the ground, Bryant marched 54 yards for a touchdown that put the game away.
Quarterback Cory Nichols covered the last 13 yards and when Stephen Fuller added the extra point, the Hornets had a 28-16 victory that kept them undefeated at 9-0 going into the season-finale at Benton on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
It also clinched the championship of the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference
“I think our kids were probably a little bit stunned there at the end, but we rose up and won the football game,” commented Horn. “Good drive at the end. We executed, played clean and won the football game. You’re not going to skate through anything. We’ve got to play to win. It’s not just going to be given to us. Good job by our guys.
“That’s a good team over there,” he said of Conway White, which fell to 6-3 on the season. “They’re physical, handled us up front. We just were able to make a couple more plays than they did. We made big plays defensively, made some big plays offensively.”
The defense of coaches John Orr and Blake Ratliff still only gave up one touchdown in the game. The 8 points was the most anyone had scored in a game against the Hornets’ defense this season. In their nine wins this season, five of them have been shutouts.
Though Conway White running back Jamar Carr rushed for 111 yards on a whopping 29 carries, the Cats only netted 73 yards rushing. That’s because the Hornets had tackles for losses on 13 snaps including two sacks by Joshua Moore and one by Tyler Mosley.
Plus, the Hornets intercepted three more passes including a pick-six by Malachi Graham, his second in as many games and the third for Bryant in those two contests. Traylon Russ and Gabe Allen had interceptions as well. The Hornets have now intercepted 14 passes this season.
Graham’s return produced the first points of the game, ending a Conway White drive that had reached the Bryant 30. On first down there, Ede and Moore dropped Carr for a loss and, after a fumble cost the Cats 4 yards and a false start penalty pushed them back five more, they went to the air leading to the pick-six.
Kade Stewart and Mosley had lost-yardage stops on the next series and, on third down, Gregg was intercepted by Russ at the Conway White 41.
Nichols completed passes of 12 and 11 yards to Graham then ran it in from 18 yards out. With Fuller’s PAT, it was 14-0.
Conway’s third possession was an extended one. The Cats drove from their own 33 to the Bryant 18. But a third-down sack by Moore made it fourth-and-19. This time, Gregg’s pass was picked by Allen, who returned it to the Conway 49. With a late hit out of bounds cited against the Cats, the ball was moved to the 34 and, on the first snap there, Nichols passed to Braylen Montgomery for a TD. Fuller’s extra point made it 21-0 with 2:55 left to play in the first half.
The Hornets got another chance to score after forcing a punt. Luke Ouellette’s tackle for a loss on third down forced the kick.
A play into the possession, however, Nichols’ pass was intercepted by Conway’s Ben Chandler and returned to the Bryant 23. A play later, Carr laced his way through the Hornets’ defense for a touchdown. He also ran in the conversion to make it 21-8.
Again, Bryant made a bid to score, driving to the Conway White 19 before time ran out in the half.
To start the second half, Graham had a 17-yard run and Martaveon Earle followed with a 13-yard bolt. But a false start knocked the Hornets off schedule, and they wound up turning the ball over on downs at the Conway White 41.
From there, the Cats drove to the Bryant 9. But a second-down run by Carr was stopped for a loss by Stewart then Moore made his second sack. Facing a fourth-and-24 at the Bryant 25, Gregg completed a pass to his tight end Preston Prock but it wasn’t enough to pick up the first down.
Bryant took over on downs. Thanks in large part to a 37-yard pass from Nichols to Braylon Brown, the Hornets drove to the Conway White 6, setting up the fumble and Goodman’s scoop-and-score that made it a one-possession game, briefly.