ALMA — Here’s the thing about mid-season milestones: You don’t really have time to relish them for long nor to sit and ponder them. There’s another game to prepare for.
But, let in be known right now, that on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, the Bryant Hornets notched their sixth consecutive win to start a season, just the second Hornets team to manage the feat in the 66-yard history of the program. And, in so doing, their head coach Paul Calley, who has led the program to more wins that any other in that history, reached the 100-victory milestone, becoming just the 15th to reach that level among current high school coaches in the state.
It was not easy. But when the Alma Airedales had a chance to win it, the Bryant defense held. And when the Airedales had a chance to tie it and send the game to overtime, sophomore kicker Aiden Walker’s field goal attempt from 26 yards away on the left hash was undermined by a poor snap to the holder. The timing thus being thrown off, the kick fluttered wide to the left and short as the Hornets escaped Alma’s fine stadium with a 27-24 victory.
The win sets up a battle of unbeaten teams next Friday when Bryant travels to Greenwood for a 7A/6A-Central Conference showdown. Greenwood’s Bulldogs reached 6-0 on the season with a 56-19 romp over Conway Friday night.
“It still hasn’t sunk in,” Calley said regarding the landmark victory over Alma. “I don’t really know the significance of it to tell you the truth. I know only 14 other (active) coaches have done it in the state at the same school but, as far as the 100th win, I don’t know how significant that is. It feels great to know you did it some place you never thought you could. That says a lot.”
Since Calley assumed the head coaching position in 2003, the Hornets have had 12 winning seasons now. In the previous 52 seasons, there had been only 11 winning seasons since 1949, and three of those came in the seasons prior to Calley taking over. He was, however, an assistant under Daryl Patton in those years. Two other assistants, defensive coordinator Steve Griffith and defensive line coach Brad Stroud, have been on Calley’s staff for the entire run.
“The kids wanted me to have 100 wins and I’m glad that they provided it,” Calley said after they’d celebrated with their coach following the game. “I told them, I don’t care if it was 100 or number 10, I’m just glad we won, glad for them. The sheer guts of the kids and work ethic is what pays off in the end.”
The coach was joined on the field after the game by his wife Laryssa and son Kurt, who contributed to three years of those victories playing for his dad.
The Hornets’ offense produced 330 yards rushing but it was a pass that put them ahead to stay with 4:26 left in the game. And, though the defense surrendered 364 yards of offense to the Airedales, they made a pair of crucial goal-line stands including one at the end when Alma had to settle for the field-goal attempt that failed.
The decisive TD came on a third-and-12 at the Alma 13. Quarterback Gunnar Burks fired a pass that Aaron Orender leapt up and grabbed it in the back of the end zone, just getting his feet down inbounds.
As for the goal-line stands, the first came on Alma’s opening possession of the game. The second came on the Airedales’ final possession of the contest. In the first quarter, Alma drove to the Bryant 4 and had a first down but could get no further. On third-and-goal, tailback Landon Brigance ran into the arms of Bryant defensive tackle Peyton Robertson and lost a yard. That set the stage for Walker’s 21-yard field goal, which accounted for the first points of the game.
And, at the end, the Airedales drove to the Bryant 7. They lined up to attempt a field goal but got a second chance when the Hornets were cited for being in the neutral zone.
The ball was advanced to the 3. On first down from there, Hayden Knowles and Phillip Isom-Green dropped quarterback Alex Benuex for a loss back to the 7. On second down, Brigance was thrown back for a 2-yard loss by Madre Dixon.
After a timeout, Alma tried to take a shot on a pass into the end zone. But linebacker Devon Alpe was there to break up the pass and the Airedales were forced to try a game-tying field goal again only to be undermined by the tough snap.
“I’m proud of the kids there at the end,” Griffith said. “They had to make a play, got a stop made twice to force the field goal and, thankfully, he missed.
“We’re always glad to get a win,” he related. “The kids are excited. They got to 6-0 for only the second time in school history. And it was a very big win to get Coach Calley’s number 100.”
Isom-Green led Bryant with 13 tackles. Safety Jaelyn Jones was in on 10. Sophomore safety Cameron Vail and defensive tackle Mario Waits made nine stops each. Dixon was in on eight and had a tackle for loss and a sack. Marvin Moody was in on seven stops. Knowles made a tackle for a loss and Waits and Cameron Murray each had a sack.
To open the game, the Hornets twice appeared to have consecutive runs reach inside the Alma 20 but, both times, they were called back by holding penalties. They were eventually forced to punt.
Alma answered with a drive from its own 20 to the Bryant 4, completing five of six passes along the way. That’s when the Hornets made their stand and forced the field goal.
In turn, Bryant drove 60 yards in five running plays, ignited by Cameron Coleman’s 16-yard burst. Coleman would finish with 117 yards rushing. DeAmonte Terry added 137 yards on the ground, his third consecutive game over 100 yards.
Coleman eventually scored from the 3.
Alma countered with an 18-play drive for its first touchdown. The key play was a fourth-down pass from Noah Dotson to Alex Key that reached the Bryant 16. Dotson later completed a third-down pass to Jeremiah Nicholson to the 3.
Though it took three more plays from there, Benuex wound up scoring from the 1. Alma was back on top 10-7.
Despite two holding penalties along the way, the Hornets regained the lead with a 12-play march for 68 yards. After the first penalty, Bryant overcame a first-and-19 from the Alma 49. Terry slashed for 16 yards and, with the help of a face mask penalty, picked up the first down.
Terry later converted a third-and-5 at the Alma 23, with a 7-yard burst. He scored on the next play, only to have it negated by the second holding penalty. Pushed back to the 17, Bryant still found a way to get the points. Burks had a 12-yard keeper that set up Terry’s 3-yard TD tote.
The score was 13-10 with less than a minute left in the half after Bryant kicker Hayden Ray missed just his second extra point all season out of 22 attempts.
“I knew it was going to be a dogfight, playing here, and as good as they were offensively,” Calley said. “I didn’t think they could stop us and I knew we’d have trouble stopping them.
“They’ve had a good year on offense,” Griffith said. “They can run the ball effectively. They throw the ball effectively. They make you cover the entire field.
“I felt like we made some adjustments at the half then came out and played well, got the three-and-out,” he added. “We got a little momentum going. Then we had a little mental mistake and they got the momentum going and it became a dogfight.”
Indeed, the Airedales went three-and-out to start the second. Moody, Waits, Devon Alpe and Murray made defensive plays during the series.
A short punt gave Bryant the ball at its own 47. Four plays later, Coleman broke a 41-yard run for a touchdown to make it a two-score game for the first time.
Two scores are exactly what Alma wound up getting. The first came quickly on a 77-yard pass from Dotson to Drake Pendergraft on the first play of the next series.
The Hornets countered with a drive to the Alma 38 where, on a third-and-1, Burks was tackled short of the first down. Calley decided to go for it but Terry was pushed back and the Airedales took over on downs.
Alma retaliated, overcoming a holding penalty to drive from its own 38 to the Bryant 35. On a fourth-and-8, the Airedales went for it and Dotson scrambled for just enough yardage to convert. A play later, Dotson threw to Thomas Hall for a touchdown that had Alma ahead 24-20 with 1:10 left in the third quarter.
With the momentum, Alma made the Hornets punt. In turn, the Airedales were unable to overcome a holding penalty and punted Bryant back to its own 38 with 7:59 left in the game.
Burks’ 18-yard pass to Orender opened the possession then it was back to the running game until, after a first-down run that reached the Alma 6, yet another holding penalty forced Bryant into a first-and-24 situation at the Alma 25.
But Burks scrambled for 5 yards, then found Austin Kelly on a 7-yard completion to the 13. That’s when Burks threw the touchdown pass with 4:26 left.
Aided by a personal foul penalty on a tackle near the sidelines that was deemed late, Alma drove to the Bryant 45 where, on first down, Dotson pitched to Heath Friddle on a reverse. But Friddle pulled up and threw back to Dotson who sprinted to the Bryant 18. Bryant cornerback was the only one on that side of the play. He appeared to have a blocker beaten but was held so he couldn’t get to Dotson. No penalty was cited.
Benuex ran it on three straight plays only to be stopped on a third-down run to the 7. That set up the dramatic finish.