LITTLE ROCK — Two years ago, when Buck James was about to embark on his first season as head coach of the Bryant Hornets, an experienced Pulaski Academy Bruins team thoroughly humbled the fledgling Hornets, scoring 70 points or so in a preseason benefit scrimmage at Rector Field at Joe B. Hatcher Stadium.
Two years later, the shoe was on the other foot.
On Thursday night, in a scrimmage in advance of the 2018 season, James’ Hornets forced eight turnovers, held a less experience group of Bruins to a net of negative yards rushing and piled up almost 450 yards of offense in a 59-28 romp.
Safety Temaurian Wilson had three picks, defensive tackle Josh Salguerio had an interception and a fumble recovery and defensive end Kyle Green had a 54-yard scoop and score. Catrell Wallace intercepted a pass near midfield and returned it to the PA 4 to set up a touchdown. Austin Bailey recovered a fumble.
LaTavion Scott, who rushed just eight times in the game had a pair of touchdown runs, including one from 45 yards out. Ahmad Adams, who played a lot at middle linebacker, also ran the ball five times for 76 yards and two scores including a 60-yard jaunt.
Senior Ren Hefley threw for 130 yards including a touchdown pass of 23 yards to former quarterback Jake Meaders and was 15 of 27 in the first half. In the second half, sophomore Austin Ledbetter hit 11 of 26 throws for 169 yards and touchdowns to River Gregory and Miles Aldridge.
Ten difference players caught passes. Aldridge and Josh Robinson had six receptions apiece.
“I was pleased with some of it,” stated James. “I thought we started really slow. And you’ve got to give them a lot of credit for that. I thought we could’ve played better up front early. And I’d like to have those completions on third and fourth down. But I thought we got better as we went.
“We played 56 kids,” he noted. “And we played them all the same amount. When you can do that, and you don’t see a big, huge drop off — I think our second d-line looked really good. I thought our young secondary looked good. They brought the wood a little bit and were physical. I thought our second offensive line did a good job there at the end.
“I thought out defensive front played pretty good,” the coach said. “I thought, defensively, we didn’t do some things on third and fourth down a couple of times but that’s what (PA) does too. But nobody goes out there and does that to them every week.
“There’s a lot of positives,” James acknowledged. “We’ve still got a long way to go to become consistent. That shows a lot in practice. We’ve got to get that out of our system.
“But we’re a better team because we came over here and played today,” he concluded.
Five of the Bruins’ turnovers came in the first half, when both teams were pretty much going with their first-string players. Wilson’s first interception, which turned back and Bruins’ drive inside the Hornets’ 10, set up an 83-yard touchdown drive capped by Hefley’s throw to Meaders from 23-yards out.
The Bruins answered with touchdown drive of 60 yards. Quarterback Braden Bratcher found Hudson Henry for the score from 12 yards out.
Bryant answered in one play. A trap up the middle that Adams broke for his long TD run.
Again, PA answered with Bratcher finding Jack Polk from 10 yards.
Three plays later, Scott bolted to the end zone on his long run.
“We felt like we could run the ball,” James commented. “Our offensive line, that’s what they do well. We didn’t run it that much. I think one time in the first two series. When we did run it a little bit in the second quarter, we had big gains.
“We’ve really kind of taken it light on LaTavion this fall,” he mentioned. “We run him a lot in practice, but we don’t take him to the ground. The guy proved he can play (last year), 1,500-yard rusher for us. He’s going to be our bell cow. Then what Ahmad brings is bigger fish to the table. I thought Miles did a great job there at the end and Braylon Butler did a good job.
“We’ve got a little bit of a stable there that we feel comfortable about. I think all of them bring a little bit something different to the table. In this league, you’ve got to have depth.”
James lauded offensive lineman Tanner Wilson for stepping in for Logan Burton, who was held out with a slight shoulder injury.
“Tanner did a heck of a job,” the coach said. “I think our six or seven linemen that we can play are pretty solid guys. And our back-ups proved tonight they’re getting better.”
The turnovers began to mound at that point. Catrell Wallace’s interception and return led to Scott’s second touchdown and a 28-14 lead.
Nate Wallace sacked Bratcher, forcing a fumble that Salguerio recovered but the Hornets were denied, and the Bruins took over at the Bryant 48. Wilson’s second TD inside the 10 got the ball back for Bryant and the game went to halftime with a 14-point difference.
The Bruins scored to open the second half on Bratcher’s 58-yard pass to John David White, cutting the margin to 7.
After both teams went four-and-out, Bryant’s first turnover, an interception was countered by Salguerio’s pick as he fell back into the middle of a would-be screen pass.
The Hornets cashed in with a 27-yard field goal by Grayson Scoles, who, sharing PAT duties with Brock Funk, drilled all eight extra points.
A fourth-down sack of Bratcher by Kennedy Miller ended the Bruins’ next possession. Ledbetter’s 37-yard pass to Jaeger Burks set up Adams 6-yard touchdown run, making it 38-21.
Gamely, PA rallied. Sophomore Nolen Bruffett toss a 49-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Nichols only to have Ledbetter hit River Gregory for a 33-yard score moments later, which made it 45-28.
Bryant’s quality depth shone down the stretch as both teams subbed. Green’s scoop and score ended the Bruins next possession.
The Hornets’ final touchdown came after Rodricho Barnes sacked Bruffett at his own 20 on a fourth-down play. That led to Ledbetter’s swing pass to Aldridge, who turned it into a 25-yard score with 1:03 left.
“I thought we did a great job when the ball got tipped in the air in the defensive backfield,” James said, regarding the turnovers. “We got off the field a couple of times when they were pressing in the (red) zone. And, you know, people just don’t do that to PA.
“We’re athletic back there. We’re just inexperienced,” he noted of the secondary. “We’re long and athletic. Getting them where they’re supposed to be and doing what they’re supposed to do — I think Ahmad, being in the middle of that thing is a real jewel. We’re missing Jakob Neel but, boy, we put an athlete in there that can play in there. He covered the back out of the backfield extremely well.
“And they didn’t have much success running at us at all,” James said. “If we can made people run sideways, we’ve got a chance to be a good football team.”
The Hornets will run a few plays tonight in the Blue-White football showcase tonight at Bryant Stadium then preparations will be under way in earnest for the Salt Bowl against Benton to open the season on Saturday, Aug. 25.
BRYANT 59, PULASKI ACADEMY 28
Score by quarters
BRYANT 7 21 3 28 — 59
Pulaski Acad. 0 14 7 7 — 28
BRYANT — Meaders 23 pass from Hefley (Scoles kick), 1:23
PULASKI ACADEMY — Henry 12 pass from Bratcher (James kick), 10:48
BRYANT — Adams 60 run (Funk kick), 10:33
PULASKI ACADEMY — Polk 10 pass from Bratcher (James kick), 8:35
BRYANT — Scott 45 run (Scoles kick), 7:54
BRYANT — Scott 1 run (Funk kick), 5:47
PULASKI ACADEMY — White 58 pass from Bratcher (James kick), 11:15
BRYANT — Scoles 27 field goal
BRYANT — Adams 6 run (Funk kick), 11:22
PULASKI ACADEMY — Nichols 49 pass from Bruffett (James kick), 9:37
BRYANT — Gregory 33 pass from Ledbetter (Scoles kick), 8:46
BRYANT — Green 54 fumble return (Funk kick), 7:41
BRYANT — Aldridge 25 pass from Ledbetter (Scoles kick), 1:03
First downs 19 20
Rushes-yds 32-149 31-(-5)
Passing 26-53-2 28-55-5
Passing yds 299 362
Fumbles-lost 0-0 4-3
Penalties-yds 4-31 9-86
Rushing:BRYANT, Adams 5-76, Scott 8-66, Butler 10-46, Aldridge 1-0, Ledbetter 4-(-1), Hefley 4-(-28); PULASKI ACADEMY, Woods 4-16, Kelley 12-16, Nichols 2-4, Bierbaum 1-1, Bratcher 8-(-12), Bruffett 4-(-30).
Passing (C-A-I-Y):BRYANT, Hefley 15-27-130, Ledbetter 11-26-2-169; PULASKI ACADEMY, Bratcher 21-42-5-280, Bruffett 7-13-0-82.
Receiving:BRYANT, Aldridge 6-64, Robinson 6-23, Meaders 3-76, Burks 3-55, Gregory 2-56, Scott 2-10, Herron 1-11, Schrader 1-9, Jett 1-7, Butler 1-(-2); PULASKI ACADEMY, Henry 6-75, Nichols 5-72, Jones 4-69, White 3-82, Woods 3-27, Stafford 1-12, Polk 1-10, James 1-7, Bierbaum 1-4, Kolb 1-1, Kelley 1-(-1).