LITTLE ROCK — There was no second-half swoon this year.
The Bryant Hornets, who were outscored 20-0 by the Catholic Rockets of Little Rock in the second half of their 37-19 loss in 2013, surged for 21 second-half points on Friday night on the way to a convincing 34-7 win at War Memorial Stadium.
They got it done in large part due to the play in the trenches. Bryant’s offensive line of Cameron Davis, Caleb McElyea, Zach McConnell, Caleb Chaffin, Devon Waite and Brycen Waddle with tight ends Jimbo Seale and Austin Fisher and H backs Drew Alpe and Demaja Price imposed their will on a solid Rockets’ defense. The Hornets were able to pile up 457 yards of offense including 302 on the ground.
The defense, particularly, the line, Cameron Murray and Mario Waits inside with ends Hunter Fugitt and Ryan Hall, held the Rockets to a net of 46 yards rushing.
Though they managed just one sack, the Hornets’ front four pressured Rockets quarterback Andre Sale all night and forced five turnovers including four in the fourth quarter alone, two of which set up game-clinching touchdown drives.
“I challenged them before the game,” said Bryant head coach Paul Calley regarding his lines. “I knew that they would have to play well for us to be successful. Last year, (Catholic) dominated the line of scrimmage. This year, we dominated the line of scrimmage. I think it was pretty obvious.”
Kylon Boyle rushed for 149 yards on just 14 carries including a scintillating, tackle-breaking 63 yard touchdown jaunt. Sevante Turner added 60 yards and a TD on 13 tries and quarterback Brandan Warner carried 16 times for 58 yards and a score. He also threw for 155 yards, completing an efficient 11 of 14 passes including two for touchdowns.
Defensively, the front four was in on an unusually high number of tackles led by Waits with 10. Fugitt and linebacker Kyle Lovelace were each in on eight, Murray and Hall seven each. Lovelace had the lone sack but Fugitt had three tackles for losses including a smackdown on Sale on a fourth-and-1 sneak that prevented a first down. Waits and Murray each had a tackle for a loss as well.
Junior Pierce Finney had an interceptions and the Hornets recovered four fumbles, one each for Fugitt, who just took the ball away from Sale; Murray, who scooped and almost scored; Connor Chapdelaine, who picked up the ball after Drew Tipton knocked it out of Sale’s hand after he’d dropped back to pass; and Ben Bruick, to end Catholic’s biggest threat of the first quarter.
“Defensively, I thought we played as hard as we have all year,” Calley stated. “And that’s the key, getting pressure on the passer, and we didn’t give up a lot of big plays.”
The victory improved the Hornets to 4-0-1 overall this season, 2-0 in the 7A/6A-Central Conference and 1-0 in games against league 7A teams, which are the only ones that count toward qualifying for the State playoffs. Bryant hosts 6A Alma next Friday.
Neither team was able to maintain a drive in the first quarter. They traded punts until Bruick’s fumble recovery. The Hornets drove to the Rockets’ 36 but a third-down pass was knocked down and Warner quick-kicked Catholic back to its own 8.
(Incidentally, during that possession, Bryant senior Brushawn Hunter, who led the team in rushing, receiving and scoring last year, made his first appearance since injuring his foot in the Salt Bowl, which opened the season. He ran a long way for 2 yards then came up limping and didn’t return.)
From the 8, Catholic put together a drive to the Bryant 27. After Sale passed to Cole Moore for 6 more yards, the Rockets were penalized for a late block. On the next play, Sale, under pressure, launched a throw to the end zone that Finney picked like a punt.
Bryant got the ball at the 20 and proceeded to march to the first score of the game, 80 yards in nine plays, highlighted by a shovel pass from Warner to Boyle that broke for 37 yards. Later, Warner kept to convert a third down at the 24. Gunnar Burks, in to give Warner a break, careened his way for 16 yards to the 8. Two plays later, Warner fired a pass to the back of the end zone that sophomore Austin Kelly went high to haul down for the touchdown.
“It was close early on,” Calley acknowledged. “We knew we would have to get settled in offensively. Once we did, we were able to move the football.
“We were trying to figure out what their keys were, how we were tipping them, because last year they had us pegged,” the coach mentioned. “We changed up a lot of our tendencies. A lot of times, they were still in the right place, they just didn’t make tackles. Our backs ran so hard in traffic. Yards after contact was key. I thought they kept their legs moving and made some big plays.”
The defense, in turn, forced a three-and-out and the Rockets’ Harper Vondran punted Bryant back to its 32 with 4:09 left in the half. With nary a third down along the way, the Hornets put together a 10-play march to paydirt. Boyle had runs of 14, 8 and 13 while Turner started the drive with a 9-yard burst and ended it with a 6-yard surge.
After his first extra-point try hit the left upright, Alex Denker drilled the PAT on the second score and it was 13-0. The Hornets had used all but 20 seconds on the clock.
And they were set to get the ball to start the second half. This time, their 80-yard scoring drive took just four plays. A pair of runs by Turner pushed the ball out past the 35 and, a play later, Boyle, breaking or spinning out of at least four tackles along the way, broke free after he appeared to be stopped and raced 63 yards for a touchdown that, with Denker’s kick, made it 20-0.
Catholic responded with its lone scoring drive. A seven-play, 75-yard drill that was keyed by Sale’s 52-yard completion to Moore. The touchdown came four plays later on a 15-yard toss from Sale to Vondran.
The Rockets, in turn, forced a punt but Warner’s line-drive kick got an excellent roll all the way to the Catholic 11. Moments later, the Rockets were punting it back.
Bryant appeared to be on its way to another score but a fumble on a handoff was recovered by the Rockets’ Will Rankin.
Catholic tried some trickery with a reverse to Moore who looked to pass. The Hornets, however, had everything covered with Tipton all over 6-6 wideout Trey Purifoy. Moore tucked the ball but was dropped for a loss by Lovelace.
The Rockets got it back to a third-and-1 at Bryant’s 44. Knowing they’d go for it on fourth down, they tried to hit a big play on a long pass. But safety Steven Murdock knocked it down after very nearly intercepting. On fourth down, Murray and Waits clogged up the middle as Sale tried to sneak behind 6-2, 281-pound center Luc Bequette. Fugitt smacked the Catholic quarterback short of the first down and Bryant took over.
But the Hornets suffered another fumble, giving the Rockets possession at Bryant’s 48.
The defense rose up again, however. Waits broke through and stopped running back Monroe McKay for a loss. On second down, Sale went back to pass and couldn’t find an open receiver. As he started to tuck the ball, he bobbled it. Fugitt was right there to take it out of his arms, returning it to the 30.
And when a personal foul penalty was called on the Rockets, Bryant had the ball 15 yards away from another score. Warner, using a nice cutback, dashed 13 yards for the touchdown.
“(Turnovers) can be very dangerous but the defense rose to the occasion, got us the ball back,” Calley said. “We turned it over again and that’s uncharacteristic. We’ve protected the ball all year but we put it on the ground two series in a row. We responded but we’ve got to eliminate situations like that. Down the stretch, it gets tougher. We’re not going to be able to do that and survive.”
On the next series, Catholic moved to the Bryant 48. On a first-down play, Tipton came on a blitz. Sale never saw him and as he started into his throwing motion, the Bryant cornerback hit his arm, knocking the ball loose. Chapdelaine picked up the ball on one bounce and returned to the Rockets’ 39.
To set the final score, Warner found Evan Lee down the left sideline for a 35-yard touchdown with 3:23 to play.
Catholic’s subsequent possession ended in similar fashion. On a third-and-6 at the Rockets’ 38, Sale had the ball knocked loose by Jordan McDonald. Murray scooped it up and headed towards the goal line. He made it to the 11 before he was tracked down.
The Hornets fumbled it back on the first play from there but, with just 2:15 left, it was all but in the books. Bryant forced one more Rockets punt then Warner took a knee twice on the victory play.
HORNETS 34, ROCKETS 7
Score by quarters
BRYANT 0 13 7 14 — 34
Catholic 0 0 7 0 — 7
BRYANT — Kelly 5 pass from Warner (kick failed), 5:10
BRYANT — Turner 6 run (Denker kick), 0:20
BRYANT — Boyle 63 run (Denker kick), 10:12
CATHOLIC — Vondran 15 pass from Sale (Williamson kick), 7:37
BRYANT — Warner 13 run (Denker kick), 8:15
BRYANT — Lee 35 pass from Warner (Denker kick), 3:23
First downs 19 14
Rushes-yds 49-302 31-46
Passing 11-14-0 16-28-1
Passing yds 155 256
Punts-avg. 4-32.0 5-30.6
Fumbles-lost 3-3 5-4
Penalties-yds 11-105 3-46
Rushing: BRYANT, Boyle 14-149, Turner 13-60, Warner 16-58, Burks 3-18, Terry 2-10, Coleman 1-5, Hunter 1-2; CATHOLIC, McKay 11-57, Harville-Thomas 7-3, Berry 2-0, Sale 10-(-4), Moore 1-(-4).
Passing (C-A-I-Y): BRYANT, Warner 11-14-0-155; CATHOLIC, Sale 16-27-1-256, Price 0-1-0-0.
Receiving: BRYANT, Lee 4-70, Terry 3-25, Kelly 2-12, Boyle 1-37, Turner 1-11; CATHOLIC, Vondran 4-46, Moore 3-73, Purifoy 3-28, Chumley 2-25, Harville-Thomas 2-19, McCoy 2-13.