Photos by Rick Nation
LITTLE ROCK — When they put together the highlight reel for the 2014 Bryant Hornets football team, there will probably be a lot of plays from the Little Rock Central game included. It seems like it was the very definition of a team victory. There were a whole bunch of guys that had “moments” for the Hornets in the 28-10 win at Quigley-Cox Stadium.
“When you’ve had injuries like we’ve had, you talk about it all week, that you need other guys to step up,” acknowledged Bryant head coach Paul Calley. “I feel like we did that.”
The Hornets were without senior Brushawn Hunter for the second game in a row. The playmaker led the team in rushing, receiving and scoring last year including a big night against Central. In addition, junior quarterback Gunnar Burks was unavailable. Both have foot injuries. Deep snapper Cole Fritschen was sidelined, safety Jaelyn Jones may be lost for the season and defensive end Kameron Guillory was on crutches with a knee sprain.
Yet, the Hornets set the tone early, built a 21-7 lead at one point and held the Tigers scoreless in the second half, improving to 2-0-1 going into the 7A/6A-Central Conference opener next Friday at home against the Russellville Cyclones.
Calley had the game pegged beforehand. In his pre-game interview on bryantathletics.com, he said, “I told the kids all week, momentum is huge playing Central. There’s been a lot of games we go in and it’s kind of a stalemate and then we’ll do something, we’ll make a play to get the momentum and we rarely give it back. We have to win the field-position battle. We’ve got to flip the field. Even if we don’t score, we’ve got to move the ball out of the shadow of our end zone and flip the field.”
That’s pretty much what the Hornets did, breaking out to a 14-0 lead and, when Central scored, they answered. When they were backed up, they created field position and, as it turned out, the Tigers’ best starting field position before their final possession, was their own 23-yard line. They drove the ball but five forays inside the Bryant 25 (four inside the 20) after their lone touchdown, the Tigers came away with just 3 points.
“We did exactly what I thought we needed to do early on to get the momentum,” Calley acknowledged after the game. “Once we got the momentum, we kind of controlled the flow of the game. When we made the stops on defense and we got backed up, we didn’t score but we flipped the field on them. I thought that was key. Make them go 80 (yards), make them play mistake-free for 80 yards. They could go 60, 65 but we did a good job in the red zone defensively buckling down and getting stops.”
With Hunter out and after senior Kylon Boyle got shaken up, junior Sevante Turner came through with 135 yards rushing on 14 carries. He also caught a touchdown pass, one of three receptions from quarterback Brandan Warner, who was 10-of-17 for 66 yards passing, while rushing for 60 yards on eight carries before taking a knee on the last play of the game and losing 5 yards off of his total.
“We were going to try to stretch them laterally, wear them down, get them tired then run it right at them,” Calley related. “The first half, it worked really well. The second half, I guess they got their second wind. They played much tougher against the run. Kylon was banged up and Sevante did a good job. Cam (Coleman) came in and made a couple of good runs there towards the end. He’s just got to hang onto the football.”
Coleman, after making a game-sealing 10-yard run in the final minute of the game had the ball ripped from his hands by Central’s Michael Givens who ran it down to the 12. But, as they had all night (except for once), the Hornets’ defense kept them out of the end zone. Defensive end Ryan Hall sacked quarterback Cooper Westbrook on a final fourth-down snap.
Linebacker Connor Chapdelaine led the defense with 12 tackles. Cornerback Mark Nelson was in on 11 stops. Safety Phillip Isom-Green, a sophomore, had a hand in nine tackles with linebacker Ben Bruick eight and defensive end Hunter Fugitt seven.
Hall had two sacks, Cameron Murray two tackles for losses, Drew Tipton broke up four passes with authority, twice passing big licks. Nelson broke up two throws and safety Brenden Young one on a pass into the end zone in the final moments of the first half, which forced Central to settle for a field goal.
Devon Alpe and Steven Murdock each picked off passes. Alpe’s came on a third-and-goal at the 10, ending a second-half threat.
Fugitt deflected three of Westbrook’s passes, two of those on back-to-back plays to end Central’s first possession of the second half, which reached the Bryant 24. The first, he leapt up and knocked down at the line of scrimmage. On the next play, he recognized a screen pass developing, dropped off the line and tipped the throw just enough to keep Central running back Richard Hayes from making the catch.
“Hunter Fugitt played a great game,” Calley stated. “He has the last couple of weeks. We felt like he had that potential. He’s an athletic kid and he gives you everything he’s got on every down.
“Tipton, they didn’t throw at him much but when they did, he made some big plays,” the coach added. “You better watch out if he’s in the area.
“Their offense was really good,” he noted. “They moved the ball. Their quarterback is pretty heady. The one pick — it was Alpe that had the pick down near the goal line — I thought (Westbrook) made a mistake. It was one of the few he made all night but it was big.”
The Hornets’ opening touchdown drive only had to go 47 yards after Boyle returned the opening kickoff 52 yards. Bryant used nine plays to cover the ground. Boyle did the honors on the touchdown from 5 yards out. Along the way, Warner completed a 13-yard pass to Evan Lee.
“They were giving us the short out,” Calley mentioned. “I felt like we had to take advantage of that.”
On the Tigers’ first possession, they appeared to be trying to give the Hornets some of their own medicine from 2013 when Bryant won 28-14. In that game, DeVonte Howard started at quarterback with Warner out due to a concussion. Running an offense very much like a “Wildcat”, Central was caught by surprise and Howard accounted for 252 yards of total offense.
To start Friday night’s game, the Tigers had Westbrook on the bench with safety Cameron Smith at quarterback running plays similar to what Howard and the Hornets had executed so well the previous season.
But Bryant’s defense was up to the task and forced a three-and-out. Mario Waits stopped Smith for no gain on a third-and-2.
Punted back to their own 37, the Hornets used eight plays to find paydirt (payturf?) again. A 34-yard bolt by Turner was the highlight. Also, the Hornets converted a pair of third downs along the way including Warner’s sneak for the touchdown from the 1. Bryant converted its first four third-down situations and, for the game, converted 8 of 11 third downs.
Central countered with its scoring drive, covering 80 yards in 11 snaps including a 37-yard burst by fullback Tyler Fountain. The Hornets made a bid to stop the Tigers once they reached the red zone. Fugitt dropped running back Richard Hayes after a 2-yard gain on first down. Waits and Bruick piled him up on second down, a gain of just 1. On third-and-7, however, Westbrook passed to Tom Coulter for the touchdown.
And, after the ensuing kick and a penalty, Bryant found itself starting from its own 10. But, just as their head coach had called for, they drove the ball out to the 45. Though the drive stalled there, they were in a position to have punter Alex Denker boot the Tigers back to their own 6.
The field position advantage stayed on Bryant’s side as the Hornets forced a three-and-out after Tipton broke up a first-down pass play with a big hit on Coulter as the ball arrived.
After the punt, the Hornets got the ball at their own 49. Behind the running of Boyle, Turner and Warner, they drove to the 3. Warner contributed keepers that went for 13 and 20 yards. On second-and-goal at the 3, Warner tossed a pass to Turner for the TD, making it 21-7 with 2:39 left in the half.
Much to their credit, Central used that little bit of time to drive from their own 20 to the Bryant 4. Westbrook completed 7 of 10 passes on the march. But after Young broke up the third-down throw into the end zone, Wahls kicked the field goal with just over three seconds left in the half.
To start the second half, Denker drilled the kickoff into the end zone for one of his four touchbacks in the game. As they had in the first half, Central drove the ball from their own 20. The drive reached the 24 where Fugitt made his two clutch plays, the second on a fourth-down situation.
Once again, Bryant flipped the field. A screen pass from Warner to Turner converted an early third down as the Hornets overcame a holding penalty. They eventually reached the Central 36 where they stalled.
Warner’s pooch kick went into the end zone and, once again, Central’s offense was starting at its own 20. A 37-yard run by Hayes and a 26-yard run by Edward Robinson flipped the field back over, however. The Tigers reached the Bryant 10 where, on a third down, Alpe came up with his interception.
Turner had runs of 10 and 26 yards as the Hornets drove the ball out to Central’s 42 before punting Central back to its own 10. Hall sacked Westbrook and, a play later, Murdock came down with his interception at the Tigers’ 45.
This time, the Hornets turned it into points, a clinching six-play drive capped by Turner’s 11-yard TD jaunt.
Despite being down 18 with 8:18 left, the Tigers used their running game to drive from their own 20 to the 8. On first down there, Fugitt stopped Fountain for 1 yard then combined with Chapdelaine on Fountain’s run for no gain.
Central’s first pass of the possession followed on third down and it fell incomplete. The Tigers lined up to punt but faked it with stellar linebacker Malcolm Williams taking the short snap and picking up 23 yards. The officials ruled that the tackle was a horse-collar stop and added 15 yards to the end of the play.
Still, the Hornets held. On a fourth-and-1 at the 8, Murray buried running back Jordan Craft for no gain.
Central got one more chance after that, thanks to the fumble but they were frustrated once again.
The win was Bryant’s eight in a row against the Tigers. Oddly enough, it was the fourth year in a row the Hornets have won with 28 points against Central, the fifth time during the winning streak.
HORNETS 28, TIGERS 10
Score by quarters
Bryant 14 7 0 7 — 28
LR Central 0 10 0 0 — 10
BRYANT — Boyle 5 run (Denker kick), 8:00
BRYANT — Warner 1 run (Denker kick), 2:42
LR CENTRAL — Coulter 15 pass from Westbrook (Wahls kick), 10:16
BRYANT — Turner 3 pass from Warner (Denker kick), 2:39
LR CENTRAL — Wahls 22 field goal, 0:03.7
BRYANT — Turner 11 run (Denker kick), 8:18
First downs 22 18
Rushes-yds 44-275 39-215
Passing 10-17-0 16-30-2
Passing yds 66 132
Punts-avg. 3-40.3 2-36.5
Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-yds 5-54 4-30
Rushing: BRYANT, Turner 14-135, Boyle 13-62, Warner 9-55, Coleman 6-21, Tierney 1-8, Terry 1-(-6); LR CENTRAL, Hayes 18-114, Fountain 10-57, Robinson 3-31, Williams 1-23, Stevens 1-3, Craft 2-1, Smith 1-0, Westbrook 3-(-13).
Passing (C-A-I-Y): BRYANT, Warner 10-17-0-66; LR CENTRAL, Westbrook 16-30-2-132.
Receiving: BRYANT, Lee 3-22, Turner 3-15, Orender 2-8, Boyle 1-12, Kelly 1-5; LR CENTRAL, McCarty 5-29, Coulter 4-38, Lewis 2-30, Stevens 2-11, Craft 2-5, Hayes 1-19.