Photos by Rick Nation and Kevin Nagle
“The kids are disappointed. They’re mad. I wouldn’t want them any other way,” said Bryant Hornets football coach Paul Calley after his team’s preseason scrimmage against the defending Class 5A State champion Pulaski Academy Bruins on Tuesday night.
The Hornets led 10-7 early but wound up being outscored 35-10 over three quarters of varsity action at Bryant Stadium.
“It was embarrassing towards the end,” Calley stated. “But you’ve got to take it for what it is — it’s a learning experience — and work towards the Benton Panthers. That’s what we’re geared toward right now.” The Hornets open the 2015 season officially against the rival Panthers in the annual Salt Bowl at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock on Friday, Sept. 4.
“P.A.’s the best at what they do,” the coach asserted. “In the passing game, you’re not going to see anybody that is more precise, in pass protection, in mixing the run with the pass, throwing the ball down the field, running screens. They’re just the best. I’m glad we got to see that defensively. Your scout team just can’t provide that for our defense.
“On the defensive side of the ball, they’re unpredictable,” he continued. “They come from everywhere with a lot of pressure. In order for us to get ready for what we’re going to see a week from Friday, we’ve got to be able to watch ourselves (on video) against that, full speed, and point out the mistakes and know where we went wrong.”
The Bruins accumulated 358 yards of offense in the three quarters including 288 in the air as sophomore quarterback Layne Hatcher completed 26 of 39 passes. He tossed two touchdown passes but was also intercepted twice by the Hornets’ Jaelyn Jones and Pierce Finney.
“In defense of my guys, we didn’t spend any time on P.A. (in practice); a little bit yesterday, a little bit today,” Calley related. “We’ve been preparing mostly for our game against Benton and we just kind of threw them to the wolves today.
“We gave up some big plays on defense,” he acknowledged. “We had some lost yardage plays on offense. When you combine the two together with a team that plays as fast as P.A. does and as precise in the passing game as they are, if you get behind, your back’s against the wall, basically.”
And, with scouts from other schools on hand, the Hornets weren’t going to show everything they do on either side of the ball.
Bryant put up 170 yards of offense. Quarterback Gunnar Burks completed 13 of 17 passes including his first seven in a row, for 67 yards Savonte Turner rushed nine times for 42 yards and a touchdown. New placekicker Hayden Ray drilled a 40-yard field goal.
“I thought our kicker looked confident tonight,” Calley noted. “I think he’s going to be right along the lines of the good kickers we’ve had over the years.”
The Bruins featured a fast-break offense and a pressing defense. The Hornets’ inexperienced secondary got a workout against the sophisticated passing attack (while the defensive line of Bryant got lesson in dealing with holding without it being called). The new Bryant offensive line was challenged by the variety of blitzes thrown at them.
“Lot of stuff to teach,” Calley emphasized. “Tomorrow will be a two-hour film day more than likely because some of the things that we’ve been doing in practice, that we’ve been picking up offensive-line-wise, tonight they just blew right by us.”
Both teams scored on their first possession. The Bruins drove 75 yards in 11 plays, using just 2:40 off the clock, with running back Jaren Watkins scoring from the 1. Hatcher, who hit his first six passes of the scrimmage, converted an early third down with a pass to Tre Bruce.
Bryant answered with its own 75-yard drive in 12 plays, eating up five minutes of clock before Turner’s 3-yard TD run. Burks had the big play of the march, a 23-yard run. He also helped the Hornets convert a pair of third downs. His 10-yard scamper converted one and his 12-yard completion to Jordan Gentry took care of the second one. The latter play got the Hornets to the 4, setting up the touchdown.
Jones’ interception stopped P.A.’s second try. The Hornets were just 30 yards away from another touchdown but a screen pass was foiled for a loss of 5 and, despite a 9-yard completion to Gentry, the Hornets were stopped short of a first down. Ray drilled the field goal and Bryant led 10-7.
The Hornets’ defense had three chances to get off the field on the next P.A. drive, the Bruins converted each time. The first came after defensive lineman Cameron Murray sniffed out a screen pass and dropped Bruce for a loss. A play later, Hatcher connected with Tre Johnson for 35 yards.
Later, the Bruins faced a third-and-3 at the Bryant 28 and converted on a short pass from Hatcher to Ray Jackson. Two plays later, however, the Hornets had forced P.A. into a third-and-10 at the Bryant 23. But, on a draw play, Watkins went the distance for a TD that made it 14-10.
Burks got sacked on consecutive plays to foil the Hornets’ subsequent possession. The Bruins scored again but had to have a 3-yard run from Bruce on a fourth-down play.
Another sack spoiled Bryant’s next possession but the Hornets got the ball back on Finney’s interception. Spurred by an 11-yard bolt by Turner, they drove to the Bruins’ 27. Burks’ first two incomplete passes ended the threat there with 1:16 left in the half.
Pulaski Academy drove to the Bryant 34 but appeared to stall there as time was running out. Linebackers Devon Alpe and Devon Howard sacked Hatcher at the 41 but, on a fourth-down play after a timeout with :16.2 showing, Hatcher threw to Justin Charette down the left sideline for a back-breaking TD. Instead of going into the half down 21-10, the Hornets were looking up at a 28-10 deficit.
The third quarter was a scoreless standoff until Hatcher tossed a 21-yard touchdown pass to Bruce with 2:20 left.
The second teams for both squads played the fourth quarter and the Bruins added two more scores. The Hornets were held to two first downs, both on the final possession of the night. Junior quarterback Beaux Bonvillain completed passes of 17 yards to Dalton Daniels, 7 yards to Luke Curtis and 9 yards to Jeremiah Long. On defense, Peyton Robertson and Nathan Mayes each had a sack.