October 24 in Bryant athletic history: 2009

Hornets dominate previously-unbeaten Panthers

EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, BryantDaily.com will continueposting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).

Chris Rycraw cuts upfield after getting a block from Kaleb Burns (51). (Photo by Rick Nation)By Rob Patrick

The switch, the surprise, the lesson learned, the secret and the magic shoes.

First, the secret:

Way back in the day, before the Bryant Hornets started winning regularly in football, they had a young head coach named David Jordan. Under his tutelage, the Hornets ran an old-style offense called the dead-T. And among the coaches on campus back then, there were three — Paul Calley, Steve Griffith and Brad Stroud — who are still around today.

You want to know why no one stops the Cabot Panthers’ dead-T like the Bryant Hornets? Why, in the four years that the Hornets have been playing against the Panthers in the 7A-Central Conference, Cabot has only had one running back eclipse 100 yards in a game? (Jordan Carlisle in 2007 got 108 but 75 of that came on one play.)[more]

Bryant linebacker Trey Sowell (37) tries to bring down Cabot quarterback Seth Bloomberg. (Photo by Rick Nation)

“We have the best defensive coaches in the state is the big key,” declared Calley, now the Hornets head coach. “We ran a dead-T for about four years and we know what people did to stop us and what gave us trouble. We try to duplicate that when we play Cabot.”

And, once again, in 2008, the Hornets made it work in a 35-7 stunner over the previously unbeaten Panthers for Homecoming at Bryant Stadium’s mud palace.

The win, along with victories by Russellville and North Little Rock, leave the 7A-Central Conference in a four-way tie for first going into the final two weeks of the regular season. Bryant turns around and travels to North Little Rock for another first-place showdown on Friday, Oct. 30.

“We had a simple plan,” explained Griffith, now the defensive coordinator. “Our kids buy into what we do. We ask the defensive linemen to really just take on a roll of taking out blockers. They know they’re not going to make any tackles probably. Coach Stroud does a great job of getting those guys ready. Then the linebackers and safeties and corners are in good shape. When the front five takes on all the blockers, they just have to slide and make tackles.”

Indeed, Hornet tacklers were led by linebacker Trey Sowell with 10, linebacker Hunter Mayall with seven and cornerback James Glasper with seven. Linebacker Brennan Bullock, tackle Dustin Grimmett and corner Tanner Tolbert each had a hand in six stops.

Cabot finished with 165 yards on the ground on Friday with Michael James leading the way with 49 yards on 14 tries. The Panthers managed a net of just 16 yards on the ground in the first half while the Hornets piled up a 28-0 lead — a lead that ballooned to 35-0 in the third quarter which, incredibly enough, invoked the sportsmanship rule of a running clock the rest of the way.

“Our guys just played hard, every one of them, every down,” Griffith asserted. “They were fighting for everything. And that’s what you’ve got to have.”

Ironically, Calley added, “A lot of our running game now is based on dead-T stuff, dead-T principals, same blocking rules. Nobody knows that but a lot of it is.”

The lesson learned:

Bryant center Justin Rauch (73) moves out Cabot noseman T.J. Bertrand (80) to make room for Chris Arnold (7). (Photo by Rick Nation)

In the Bryant Hornets’ lone loss of the season, a 14-3 gut-punch at home in the mud against the Russellville Cyclones, Hornets’ star running back Chris Rycraw got his 100 yards but never really broke loose.

Again, the senior was presented with a sloppy track and a tough defense that came into the contest allowing an average of less than 10 points per game.

This time, he carried 31 times for 187 yards and four touchdowns.

“I couldn’t believe how well Chris ran under those conditions,” Calley marveled. “He was a lot more patient tonight than he was against Russellville and things developed.”

The switch:

It helped Rycraw too that his offensive line was dominant against Cabot’s front which had shown it’s own domination against just about everyone the Panthers had played this season.

One of the keys to that was the move of senior Kaleb Burns to left guard and junior Landon Pickett to left tackle. It allowed Burns, the only starter back from last season, to pull, to trap block and to help double-team with Cabot’s standout noseman T.J. Bertrand who, Calley mentioned, had refused to be blocked all season, wreaking havoc on opponents’ offenses.

The magic shoes:

The last time, the Bryant Hornets hosted a No. 1 team — and many had the Panthers ranked that high last week — it was in 2004 when the Little Rock Central Tigers came to town in the midst of an amazing run to consecutive State championships. They suffered their lone loss during that two-year span at Bryant when Anthony Mask fired a fourth-down pass to Dustin Holland for a touchdown with just over a minute left that lifted the Hornets to a 22-19 win.

Against Cabot, the game started with Logan Garland returning the kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown.

What do those two plays have in common?

“Logan Garland had on some magic cleats,” Calley revealed. “He wore Dustin Holland’s cleats tonight, the ones Dustin had on when he caught the pass against Little Rock Central.

Holden Chavis latches onto Cabot's Spencer Smith (3) as Cody Perlson (38) closes in to help. (Photo by Rick Nation)

“The opening kickoff, we thought they had a weakness and Coach (Jason) Hay and Coach (Dale) Jones did a good job devising a kickoff return to beat them,” he added.

The surprise:

It came right after Jace Denker punctuated Garland’s return up the left sideline for the opening score, with a successful PAT.

On the ensuing kickoff, Denker squibbed a kick across the muddy field, an onside kick that Sammill Watson recovered in front of the Cabot sideline.

“Keeping the momentum was the key to the surprise onside kick,” Calley said. “We planned it. We work on it every week. I just felt like if they get the ball and they keep it and they lull us to sleep, our momentum from the kickoff, we lose it. So, we talked about it. I talked to Coach Griff about it. I said, ‘I want to do it.’ He said, ‘All right, do it.’

“(Watson’s) job was to keep it from going out of bounds,” continued the coach. “It worked perfect. Denker executed it. We usually like it to hop and bounce over the front line. But this time, it hit and just skidded behind the guy. He wasn’t expecting it. Of course, if that plan doesn’t work, then I’m an idiot because I’ve given them the ball at the 45 yard line. But it worked and we’ll take it this time.”

It was so unexpected that the Cabot front line of blockers actually turned their backs to hustle a retreat into blocking position.

Bryant proceeded to drive 42 yards for a second score. Junior quarterback Blake Davidson, starting in place of senior Jimi Easterling who had suffered a concussion the previous week at Conway, completed the first of his four passes in the game along the way before Rycraw slashed and splashed 23 yards for the TD.

Blake Davidson hands off to Jacob Powell. (Photo by Rick Nation)

Denker kicked it to 14-0. And Cabot had yet to run a play on offense.

With the Panthers’ grind-it-out offense, that’s where every opponent would love to be against them, in hopes of forcing them out of their comfort zone, to make them throw it.

Cabot picked up a first down on three carries by James but stalled there as Seth Bloomberg, who was 8 of 11 passing last year in the Panthers’ 14-0 win over Bryant, missed his first two throws on the way to a 1-for-9 night.

“The field conditions played a roll in their offense,” Calley acknowledged, “slowing their offense down, because if they can run the option and get traction on the belly and roll us out of there, it’s a different kind of ballgame.”

It was just the second time in eight games this season the Panthers had played on a natural surface (and this one was unnaturally muddy). Hornets athletic director Tom Farmer had tried to dry up the field, bringing in helicopters earlier in the day and spreading sacks and sacks of diamond dry. It had little effect.

After a Cabot punt and a penalty, the Hornets were 80 yards away from adding to the 14-0 lead but, in 14 plays, they got there.

Davidson converted a third-down early in the drive with a 9 yard pass to Brandon Parish. Chris Arnold provided a lift, running from the fullback spot for 9 yards. Rycraw converted a fourth-and-2 from the Cabot 41 with a 4-yard run behind Pickett, Burns, tight end Tyson Abernathy and fullback Marcus Harris.

Rycraw capped the drive a few plays later with an 8-yard run. And when Denker added the extra point, the Hornets had already matched the most points Cabot had given up in a game, with 10:56 still to play in the first half.

It was an impressive drive against an outstanding defense.

“Cabot’s a very disciplined defense,” Calley noted. “They’re going to play technique and they’re going to take care of their spot but if you ever get them out-flanked, if you can get outside and the linebackers get cut off and the strong safety is out of position — and that was part of our game plan to try to keep the strong safety out of the game — then you’ve got a chance. I mean a couple of times we ran to the corner and there was nobody there.”

In turn, the Panthers picked up a first down and had the ball near midfield. On a second-down play, Ronnie Maxwell, who got a start at nose as the Hornets deployed in a five-man front for the first time this season, knifed through and cut down Bloomberg for a 5-yard loss.

On third down, Bloomberg threw incomplete as he scrambled to avoid a sack.

So the Panthers had to punt with Matt Bayles dropping back to kick. But a high snap sailed over his head. He raced back, scooped it up and tried to make a run for it only to have the Hornets descend, dropping him for a loss of 24 at the 15.

Taking over there, Rycraw nearly scored on the first play. He was tripped up at the 1 but, on the next play, he leapt into the end zone for his third touchdown.

Denker made it 28-0 with 8:04 still to play in the first half.

“I told the players before we came out that (Cabot) was going to score 14 and we needed to score more than 14 to beat them,” Calley said later. “I never dreamed we’d score 35.

“I told them at halftime, ‘What you’ve done is unprecedented and unheard of, but it’s not over,’” he added. “’We’ve got to come out and play the second half like it’s 0-0.’ We didn’t do that last week.”

The Hornets had led Conway 31-0 at the break only to have the Wampus Cats score twice in the third quarter with a third TD negated by penalty.

Before the first half was over, however, the Hornets made another defensive stand. The teams had traded punts and the game had been delayed briefly due to a power outage in the pressbox that darkened the scoreboard and the play clock.

Cabot got the ball at the Bryant 46, it’s best field position of the game. The Panthers drove to the 15 but, on third down, Spencer Neumann was dropped for a 5 yard loss. On fourth down, Bloomberg was sacked by Maxwell and Josh Hampton. The Hornets took over on downs.

At the half, Bryant had amassed 138 yards of offense including 117 on 20 carries by Rycraw. Cabot’s net total offense, on the other hand, was a mere 26 yards on 26 snaps.

The Panthers got the ball to start the second half but they were unable to pick up a first down. Bloomberg’s keeper on third-down was spoiled by cornerback James Glasper.

Bayles punted the Hornets back to their own 21 but behind a 49-yard gallop by Rycraw, they were soon adding to their lead. With 5:58 left in the third period, Rycraw scored from the 1.

Denker’s extra point made it 35-0, incredibly invoking the sportsmanship rule which keeps the clock running continuously except during timeouts, after scores and to move the chains.

Cabot got on the board on the subsequent possession, going 69 yards on eight plays. James converted a fourth-down at the Bryant 49 with a 9-yard run. On the next play, he picked up 2 but Bryant was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct as things started getting a little “chippy”.

After the markoff, Bayles shot through a hole on the left side of the Bryant line and went 23 yards for the touchdown.

Logan Spry added the extra point and with 2:12 left in the third quarter, the final score was on the board.

Midway through the final period, the Hornets avoided giving Cabot a break when a bad snap on a punt attempt was scooped up by Tolbert who raced 27 yards for a first down.

The Hornets turned the ball over on downs with 2:20 left and the Panthers used all of that driving to the Bryant 26.


Score by quarters

Cabot 0 0 7 0 — 7

BRYANT 14 14 7 0 — 35

Scoring summary

First quarter

BRYANT — Garland 85 kickoff return (Denker kick), 11:45

BRYANT — Rycraw 23 run (Denker kick), 8:57

Second quarter

BRYANT — Rycraw 8 run (Denker kick), 10:56

BRYANT — Rycraw 1 run (Denker kick), 8:04

Third quarter

BRYANT — Rycraw 1 run (Denker kick), 5:58

CABOT — Bayles 23 run (Spry kick), 2:12

Team stats


First downs 13 13

Rushes-yds 40-165 46-239

Passing 1-9-0 3-4-0

Passing yds 10 17

Punts-avg. 4-41.5 3-31.3

Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0

Penalties-yds 4-20 5-41


Rushing: BRYANT, Rycraw 31-187, Tolbert 1-27, Powell 8-20, Arnold 2-18, Jones 3-(-3), Davidson 2-(-10); CABOT, James 14-49, Smith 3-49, Bloomberg 11-38, Berry 2-19, Bayles 9-15, Neumann 1-(-5).

Passing (C-A-I-Y): BRYANT, Davidson 3-4-0-17; CABOT, Bloomberg 1-9-0-10.

Receiving: BRYANT, Parish 1-9, Garland 1-5, Hampton 1-3; CABOT, Neumann 1-10.

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