Hornets found a way to win (most of) the close ones; came up short in playoffs (or did they?) (final stats)

By Rob Patrick

Bryant Hornets head football coach Paul Calley was reflecting the other day after[more] his team’s 42-35 loss to Fort Smith Northside (on a touchdown that probably wasn’t) ended a season in which it shared a second consecutive 7A-Central Conference championship and became the sixth Hornets team in a row to record at least eight wins, the seventh in Calley’s nine years.

And they could still be playing, as it turns out. Calley’s defensive staff — Steve Griffith, John Wells and Brad Stroud — noticed when reviewing the video of the Northside game that, on the touchdown that broke the 35-35 tie, one official ruled Grizzlies quarterback Kenrick Burns was in for the touchdown despite the fact that he didn’t have the ball. Clearly on the video, Burns loses possession in the pile and the ball squirts 4 yards deep into the end zone where Bryant’s defensive tackle Michael Smith picks it up.

There is, of course, no certainty that the outcome would’ve been any different had the game gone to overtime but . . .

“For us to be in a position we were in, I was extremely pleased,” Calley said, adding of the season as a whole, “There was just very, very little margin for error.

“I’ve had folks say they’re angry that we got the No. 3 seed,” the coach mentioned. “’How do you win the conference and get the No. 3 seed?’ Well, when you win the majority of your games by three points or less, you don’t have the points to put you over the top.”

In fact, except for a 42-0 win over Texarkana, every Bryant win could’ve been a loss.

“The Russellville game was in doubt until Dillon (Winfrey) picked off a pass,” Calley recalled. “The Cabot game was in doubt until we made the drive at the end. The Conway game was in doubt until they fumbled the punt and we kicked a field goal. The Catholic game was in doubt. It was tied at 35. We had a third-and-11 and we had to convert and Hayden (Lessenberry) scored a touchdown. The Central game, we didn’t have to come back, we had a lead but they went down and scored and were onside-kicking. Van Buren was a 7-point game with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter.

“I think it says a lot about the character of our kids to come through in those close games,” he stated. “I’ve said this 100 times, our guys think they’re supposed to win and they do. They find a way to get it done somehow. And when you look at the team we had this year, compared to the conference championship team we had last year, there’s maybe four or five people that started on this team that could have contributed on last year’s team. I’m not saying started, I’m saying contributed. With three of them being No. 1 (Sawyer Nichols), No. 2 (Winfrey) and No. 5 (Karon Dismuke). So, it is pretty amazing.”

It is, actually, extraordinary that a team that was so undersized and inexperienced playing against teams that, week after week, looked far more impressive during pre-game drills, could accomplish so much.
Of course, there’s no eyeball test for heart. There’s no way to quantify the hard work, the discipline, the training and the camaraderie — the brotherhood that each senior talked about — that a team develops. It doesn’t, in fact, always show up in the won-loss record.

“I thought our conference allowed us to compete,” Calley added. “We didn’t have the same team we had last year, obviously, and nobody else really did either. Our conference was down. We made plays when we had to. Our defensive coaches coached our guys well enough to give us a chance to win. When I figured it up, we were giving up an average of 26, 28 points a game against offenses that weren’t that good. For a 10-year period, we were giving up an average of 13 points a game.”

Offensively, the team took, as the old adage goes, what the defense gave it. More and more it was the running game after the spread passing attack carried the Hornets early in the season. Defenses adjusted and it was no small thing that Lessenberry, the junior quarterback who just turned 16 the day before the season started, got beaten up game after game including a sore right (push-off) ankle over that last four games. That included extremely rugged treatment at North Little Rock.

“Everybody just played us a little tighter,” Calley explained, referring to the coverage of the Bryant receivers. “They didn’t give us the short routes and we weren’t able to protect long enough to complete the passes down the field.”
And there was more.
“When we did have people open, we lacked the confidence to throw it, especially after the North Little Rock game,” the coach emphasized. “When you’ve got a 16-year-old boy that hears people belittling him from the stands and calling him every name in the book and blaming everything on him, he gets hesitant to throw the ball. And you can’t blame him. He doesn’t want to feel like he’s letting anybody down. It’s hard not to feel that way when you’re so close to the stands and you can hear adults saying things to you that they shouldn’t be saying. It rattled him and it affected him the rest of the year, I think.”

Asked about his thoughts on the loss to Northside, the second of the season to the Grizzlies, Calley said, “They’re so athletic offensively, we just had trouble tackling them. We had trouble tackling them the first time and we had trouble tackling them this time. I can’t say they’d gotten better on offense but they executed well. They ran the ball when they had to.

“Us, offensively, the first two possessions disappointed me,” he continued, referring to two immediate three-and-out series. “We took the ball and I thought we could march it right down the field and score. Of course, we didn’t. We made some mistakes, obviously.

“Against Little Rock Central, we ran a lot of outside zone,” he explained. “They over-pursued and gave us the cutback. The other night, we had it blocked several times the first couple of drives and we were looking to cut rather than stretch and we didn’t get to the edge. (The Grizzlies) were going to be sure they didn’t give us the cutback. So that shut us down.

“They played us different defensively than they had in the past. They stayed in more man coverage with no free safety to allow them to keep more defenders in the box. They always had run support on the outside. When we tried to throw, they always had that extra blitzer.”

With more people rushing the passer than the Hornets could block, coming from a variety of angles, the young and comparatively light offensive line couldn’t keep them out long enough for Lessenberry to check more than one or two receivers before bailing or being sacked.

“Now, there’s some things we could’ve done, we tried to do,” Calley said. “When we threw the interception in the end zone at the end of the first half, I wanted to run a screen because of the way they were coming after us. I knew they’d come after us again. They did it. It was there. We missed one block and a guy got in Hayden’s face. He had to get rid of the ball before he wanted to.

“If we complete that pass, it’s probably a 70-yard gain because there’s nobody there,” he continued. “It worked out just like it should have except for one guy. It ended up, Hayden, a guy got in his face, and he was trying to get rid of the ball. He couldn’t get rid of it, couldn’t throw it away, couldn’t ground it in the end zone because he didn’t want to get a safety.”

As a result, the ball sailed into the air and Northside intercepted for a tie-breaking touchdown.

“That’s one I wish I had back,” Calley admitted. “I wish I’d just sat on it and tried to run the time out in the first half. But I knew, we had to make the most of every possession we had and we have always been a team that’s been able to score at the end of a half or the end of a game. We gambled there and the gamble didn’t pay off.”

There were other missed opportunities too, he mentioned, “We got a surprise onside kick and we were offsides. We had several instances where we had a good gain, a good drive going that was negated by penalty. And, once again, it’s that phantom penalty. We had back-to-back penalties on one 30-yard gain. One was a holding call, which wasn’t a hold. The very next play, we run a draw play and they’re in man coverage. Our receiver tries to get an outside release and they grabbed him by the shoulder pads and pull him to the ground. And we got called for holding. That backed us up another 10 yards.

“It’s stuff like that — it’s hard to overcome,” he stated. “It’s hard to overcome dumb decisions by the coach, which that touchdown we gave them was. But there’s a lot of other things that you have to overcome that sometimes you can’t do it.
“I think people figured out we weren’t a great pass protection team,” Calley reiterated. “If they came after it, they could force us into errors or force us to eat the ball. That’s kind of what I alluded to when I said last week that we knew what we could do and we knew what we couldn’t do. The passing game has not been our strength.

“There’s times that you have to throw the ball and there’s things that we do throw very well,” he mentioned, “but it’s just like, after we did give up the touchdown towards the end of the half, we get a good return, we run a trick play, it’s open, we get it down there. We’d gotten out of our man protection scheme and gone to a slide protection scheme, which forced the back to have to block an end. Sawyer runs a good route and he’s going to be open in the end zone but the defensive end runs through our running back, hits the quarterback’s arm and he can’t follow through on the throw. The ball floats in the end zone and they pick it off.

“That was a huge turnaround, a huge turn of events toward the end of the first half,” the coach acknowledged. “You wish you had it back. We didn’t have any timeouts. I didn’t want to run the ball for fear of running out of time before we get a chance to take a shot at the end zone.

“But our guys hung in there. We fought. Despite being down, we tied it up at 35 with eight minutes left. We kicked it deep, made them go 80 yards and they went 80 yards.”

Well, 79 anyway.


2011 statistics, official through 11 games

Score by quarters

BRYANT 66 111 54 105 — 337

Opponent 31 99 79 75 — 284

Team stats

Bryant Oppt

First downs 200 218

Rushes-yds 376-1,831 453-2,211

Passing yds 2,059 1,743

Passing 160-247-11 156-258-10

Fumbles-lost 13-6 22-8

Penalties-yds 66-616 87-701


Rushing: Karon Dismuke 168-1,116, Jalen Bell 87-511, Ben Clark 21-128, Caleb Thomas 6-34, Dillon Winfrey 6-24, Jacob Irby 3-23, Tyree Reese 2-8, Hayden Lessenberry 80-(-2), Sawyer Nichols 1-(-3), Wesley Akers 2-(-8).

Passing (C-A-I-Y): Lessenberry 159-244-11-2,007 (16 TDs), Akers 1-2-0-7, Nichols 1-1-0-45.

Nichols 45-605, Winfrey 43-640, Hayden Daniel 32-405, Dismuke 11-158, Charles Henson 10-131, J.Bell 11-84, Austin Powell 4-19, Aaron Bell 2-18, Jacob Powell 1-6.

Scoring: Dismuke 72 (12 td-run), Jace Denker 69 (8 fg {36, 28, 24, 47, 30, 26, 39, 31}, 42 of 43 PATs), Winfrey 54 (8 td-rec, 1 td-int.ret.), Nichols 36 (6 td-rec), J.Bell 36 (6 td-r), Lessenberry 30 (5 td-r), Clark 12 (2 td-r), Henson 6 (1 td-rec), Thomas 6 (1 td-r), A.Bell 6 (1 td-ko ret), Daniel 6 (1 td-rec)

Tackles: Tryee Reese 99 (51U, 42A, 1 TFL, 4 Sack, 1 ST), Jesse Johnson 79 (38U, 38A, 1sack, 2 ST),
Marshall Everett 78 (29U, 43A, 4 TFL, 1 Sack, 1 ST), Travis Royal 72 (33U, 26A, 2TFL, 11 ST), Parker Dunn 68 (29U, 32A, 5 TFL, 1 Sack, 1 ST), Tim Kelly 63 (20U, 29A, 7 TFL, 7 Sacks),
Winfrey 63 (34U, 19A, 8 TFL, 2 ST), Aaron Bell 54 (30U, 17A, 3 TFL, 4 ST),
Chris Stevens 49 (22U, 24A, 2 ST),
Walter Dunn 47 (12U, 23A, 2 Sack, 10 ST),
Michael Smith 38 (12U, 22A, 1TFL, 3Sack), Jacob Powell 31 (9U, 17A, 2TFL, 2Sack, 1 ST), Austin Dunahoo 28 (11U, 13A, 3 TFL, 1 Sack), Thomas 25 (13A, 9U, 2TFL, 1 ST),
Kaden Mills 25 (10U, 12A, 3TFL),
Jared Koon 13 (3U, 10A),
Davis Nossaman 11 (4A, 5U, 1TFL, 1 ST),
Collin Battaglia 9 (4U, 4A, 1 TFL, 3 ST),
Justin Hollingshead 8 (4A, 4U),
Nichols 6 (1U, 5A),
Clark 5 (2U, 5A, 1 ST),
Dismuke 3 (2U, 1 ST),
Logan Howell 2 (1U, 3A, 1 TFL),
Bryce Denker 3 (1U, 1A, 1 ST)
Nate Rutherford 1 (1ST),
Jace Denker 1 (1 ST),
Kordell Boykins 1 (1 ST),
Kelton Shaw 1 (1U), Stoney Stevens 2 (1A, 1 ST).

Fumble recoveries: Royal 2, Kelly 1, Mills 1, Stevens 1, A.Bell 1, Rutherford 1, Smith 1, Winfrey 1.

Interceptions: A.Bell 3, Winfrey 3, Stevens 2, Nichols 1, Royal 1.

Pass breakups: Winfrey 10, A.Bell 9, Royal 4, Johnson 3, Thomas 3, Reese 2, Nichols 1.

Kicks blocked: Winfrey 1, Powell 1, Thomas 1.

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