The Bryant Hornets freshman team forced five second-half turnovers including a pair of interceptions by Jaylon Dickson to turn a rugged 14-12 game at halftime in a 35-12 going-away victory over the Cabot Red Panthers on Thursday night at Bryant Stadium.
Three of the turnovers led directly to scores for the Hornets as both Randy Thomas and Keethan Hudson rushed for over 100 yards. Thomas scored four times and Hudson put the finishing touches on the victory with a 36-yard TD dash.
To go with Dickson’s pair of interceptions, Bryant’s Andrew Hayes, Patrick Karp and Ty Dawson recovered fumbles. The Panthers turned it over at one point on three consecutive snaps over three possessions. On the third play of their next series, Dickson made the first of his interceptions. The final turnover was Dickson’s second oskie, which set up Hudson’s cap-off TD.
Bryant and Cabot Red came into the game tied at 5-1 in the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference, trailing the unbeaten Benton Panthers. Benton got past Russellville 21-13 on Thursday to remain unbeaten but has Cabot Red and Bryant ahead on its schedule. If Bryant can get past Conway White next Thursday, it’ll set up a league championship showdown at Benton on Tuesday, Nov. 3 in the season finale.
“That’s a good football team,” stated Hornets coach Kenny Horn in reference to Cabot Red. “I mean they’re good.
“I told our kids that the improvement they’ve made the last several weeks has been tremendous,” he related, adding of Thursday’s win, “That may be the most cleanly executed game that I’ve been a part of with any crew been with, maybe ever. It was very clean. We executed everything properly, made adjustments at halftime and executed those properly. It’s a credit to the kids. They did a great job.
“Defensively, we played well tonight,” the coach continued. “They turned the ball over and I know that helped us. We may not have caused them all but we got them. And we took advantage of them. Overall, we played well.”
Thomas finished with 149 yards on 14 carries and Hudson finished with 128 yards on 18 totes.
“Keethan has come on,” Horn asserted. “He’s a very good running back. And Randy’s — we’ve got some guys that can carry the football.
“We blocked well,” he added. “The linemen did a great job. (Cabot) was pretty big up front. They were physical. I thought we handled them pretty good. They made their adjustment, blitzing some folks that we couldn’t quite get to but, at halftime, we made that adjustment on a few things and our kids picked it up and executed it well. That last touchdown play was the most cleanly-blocked play — executed play — I’ve seen in a long time.
“And we practiced like that this week,” the coach noted. “We executed well this week. We had good focus. We had a good week of practice and we played a good game. We’ve just got to carry this execution over and this focus over to next week. We’ve still got an opportunity to stay in the hunt.”
It’s always good to get an early lead against any Cabot team, with the program’s use of the time-consuming, yardage-crunching dead-T offense, and the Hornets were able to do that. They never trailed in the contest.
The opening possession went 53 yards to paydirt after K.J. Terry recovered the Panthers’ opening onside kick. The key play was Thomas’ first carry, a 34-yard bolt. He would later score from the 1 on a third-and-goal play. A try for two failed.
Cabot came right back with a three-play 57-yard drive that paid off when Lyndon Nichols broke a third-and-1 dive for 48 yards and a tying TD. The Panthers’ try for two was foiled as well.
The Hornets came right back with a 62-yard drive in just three plays. Hudson broke for runs of 25 and 13 to set up Thomas’ 19-yard touchdown run.
On the conversion this time, the Hornets ran the swinging gate and Dickson pitched to Terry, who got in just inside the pylon to make it 14-6.
The Panthers appeared to be on their way to another score when they trudged to the Bryant 39, though they were hampered by a pair of penalties. On a fourth-and-2, however, linebacker Jakob Neel stopped workhorse Bradley Morales (16 carries, 47 yards) for no gain.
The Hornets had a chance to make it a two-possession lead but their drive suffered the same fate. A holding penalty put them in a long-yardage situation and they gave the ball back on downs at the Cabot Red 34.
With 3:50 left, the Panthers marched to another score. They used all of their timeouts and one of the Hornets’ too. That came on a fourth-and-3 at the Bryant 25. Horn, no doubt, was thinking of getting a stop and having some time for his lightning-strike offense to get on the board before halftime.
But the Panthers converted on an 8-yard run by Nichols (12 carries, 99 yards). Two plays later, quarterback Cameron Thames tossed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Crumbly with :22.9 showing.
A two-point conversion would’ve tied it at that point but linebacker Wyatt Hoyt hauled down Nichols short of the goal line, preserving a 14-12 edge for the Hornets.
But Cabot Red would get the ball to start the second half. The Panthers picked up a first down by converting a fourth-and-1 at midfield but, on the next snap, the ball got loose and Dawson claimed it for Bryant.
The Hornets drove to the 28 and would’ve reached the 20 if not for a holding penalty. A play later, Cabot Red’s Tadariyan Rogers stepped in front of a pass by Thomas and returned deep into Bryant territory. But, along the way, an illegal block cost the Panthers, who took up residence at their own 44.
On the first play there, the ball was jarred loose from Morales and Karp pounced to claim it for the Hornets.
This time, Bryant took advantage but it took the only pass completion of the night to keep the drive alive. On a third-and-7 at the Panthers’ 39, Thomas found Hayes over the middle for 25 yards. Despite another penalty, the Hornets got the 6 when Thomas scampered 18 yards. Martin Ramirez kicked the extra point and the Hornets had a two-score edge, 21-12.
Following the kickoff, Cabot Red set up at its own 19. Morales tried to get around right end but ran into Hayes, who yanked the ball loose and covered it. That led to Thomas’ 22-yard touchdown run and another Ramirez PAT, which extended the advantage to 28-12 going into the fourth quarter.
Forced to pass the ball — something most Cabot teams only do reluctantly — the Panthers turned it over on a third-and-1 at the Bryant 49. Dickson stepped in front of it.
The resulting possession was undermined by a pair of penalties. It resulted in the only punt of the game. And it was a doozy. Logan Grant waited for his teammates to get downfield then rugby-kicked it (with a running start) 45 yards downfield.
Cabot got the ball at its own 22 with 4:31 left. The Panthers picked up a first down but Dawson made a stop for no gain then Morales was cut down with a loss of 2 yards. On a fourth-down pass over the middle, Terry picked off the pass right out of the arms of Crumbly with 2:21 left.
A play later, Hudson set sail on his TD run.