By Rob Patrick
For the first time in a month, the Bryant Hornets will play a football game on their home field[more] tonight when they renew an old rivalry with the Sheridan Yellowjackets. It is truly a homecoming for the Hornets who, in fact, have yet to play a full game at Bryant Stadium. Both the season-opening game against Conway and the follow-up against Little Rock Central were truncated by lightning and storms. The Sept. 21 game against the Benton Panthers was a Bryant “home” game this year but as part of the Salt Bowl tradition, the game was played at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
Actually, long before Bryant began playing football against Benton, there had developed a rivalry with the Sheridan Yellowjackets. It dates back to the 1960’s, maybe before that, though the two programs haven’t met often recently — 2008 and 2009 — they played every year from 2003 back.
Both teams come in off a win. For Sheridan, it was an emotional Homecoming victory over the rival Benton Panthers — a win that broke a four-game losing streak. For Bryant, it was an ugly one against the hapless Little Rock J.A. Fair War Eagles.
“It was kind of a frustrating night,” acknowledged Hornets defensive coordinator Steve Griffith. “It was a sloppily played game, sloppy conditions. Our defensive linemen were very, very frustrated just getting grabbed and held. The best thing I can say is that the game’s over and we got away from there.
“We need to be disciplined because Sheridan is a much more disciplined offensive football team than Fair was,” he continued, adding of the Yellowjackets’ senior Dylan Flores. “I believe everything is tied back to their quarterback. You can tell they have great confidence in him with the job he does in the passing game. He reads things quickly, gets the ball away on time, which makes it difficult defending. They’re going to make some catches. We just have to do a good job of catching them.
“He does such a good job of reading defenses and he appears to be reading defenses in the running game,” Griffith said. “They’ll start the running back (Braden Lunday) downhill then he gets his read and he’ll pull it and run it. It’s kind of a double option look and he does a very, very good job with it.
“We’ll have to do a great job of containing the quarterback and maybe trying to confuse his reads and then just playing with focus, hopefully some intensity like we’ve shown at times this year. If we can start out with that intensity, I think we’ll be okay.”
The Jackets are coached by former Arkansas Razorbacks star Louis Campbell who has coached at major colleges and the pro ranks.
“They’re 4-2 and their only two losses came to Conway and Pine Bluff, which is obviously two good football teams,” Campbell said of the Hornets. “They’ve got tremendous size up front. Offensively, their tackles (Ian Shuttleworth and Jordan Jones) are 280, 290 and their guards (Blake Hobby and Jacob Ward) are 230, 240, so that’s certainly a challenge for us because we’re not the biggest team. They’ve got plenty of skill guys and receivers. They throw it all over the place. That’s what they want to do. They run it some as well.
“Defensively, they can run,” he continued. “They’re athletic. You know, Bryant’s always got a good football team. We’ve got to play as good as we can play to have a chance to win.”
The Hornets will continue to cobble together a running game with the continued absence of senior Jalen Bell, out with a concussion two weeks ago at Pine Bluff.
“We’re kind of mixing and matching,” related Bryant offensive coordinator Lance Parker. “We’ve got guys that can do certain things well. We don’t really have a complete running back right now that we can do everything with. Whoever’s running the ball, we’ve got certain schemes for those guys. We just have to keep it orchestrated where it fits into what we’re doing.”
That includes juniors Jacob Irby and Wesley Akers along with sophomores K.J. Hill and Brushawn Hunter.
“Irby’s our back but if we need a little more size or a little more speed on certain things — we’re going to run running plays to the strength of whoever we have in there,” Parker explained. “We’ve got guys that can do one of each thing but we just don’t have anybody like J.Bell. He was the complete back who could do it all for us.
Circumstances will determine who’s in there and what we’re doing. We’ve got to change our personnel around, so it gets tough. They’ve all got to be ready to go in when they’re supposed to with the different groupings.”
Regarding the Sheridan defense, Parker related, “They are very well coached. They are going to line up in the right spot. Sometimes they may be out-manned at a position but it looks like they move around and disguise enough stuff to make up for some of that. If we’re not on our game and paying attention to our assignments, they can disguise stuff and bait us into things. Our guys have watched a lot of tape. Hopefully, they’ll make sure that nothing they do is going to confuse us.”
Asked about the 35-14 win at Fair, Parker commented, “I think we learned the lesson that we’ve got to hang onto the ball. We’ve got to take people seriously and make sure, whatever it is, if we’ve got an assignment, we stay on our feet doing our assignment. I think we kind of let the atmosphere make us play down. We’ve got to come to play, regardless of who we’re playing. So I think it was a good lesson for our kids.
“We got some good stuff out of it,” he added. “We learned some stuff off tape that we can do better. But we’re ready to move on and play at home again.”