August 25 in Bryant athletic history: 2009

Hornets improve as scrimmage goes along

EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, will continueposting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).

Chris Rycraw (21) takes off on his 48-yard touchdown run early in Monday's scrimmage. (Photo by Rick Nation)By ROB PATRICK

In a preseason scrimmage, high school coaches want to see their team execute. They want their players to get a feel — again or for the first time — for the speed of a Friday night contest. It’s also a chance for them to trade licks with someone that’s genuinely hostile to your cause.

But the most important by-product of such a night may well be the film.[more]

Bryant safety Stanley Oxner (19) makes his second interception. (Photo by Rick Nation)

“It’s invaluable,” acknowledged Bryant head coach Paul Calley after his team’s scrimmage against the Pine Bluff Zebras Monday night. “You’ve got guys that think they’re coming off the ball, think they’re playing hard, think they’re taking the right step but they’re really not. They can see it (on film) and it’s really a humbling experience to see yourself on film when you weren’t playing your best. It puts you back into the mold where ‘I’m not close to where I want to be. I’ve got to get better.’

“And we’ve got guys that want to do that,” he asserted. “And I have every confidence that they will. We’re much better. I feel like we’re ahead of where we were last year at this point on both sides of the ball.”

The two teams played two full quarters with their front line players. Early on, it was a game of special teams and turnovers but, in the end, the Hornets had a 24-20 advantage on the scoreboard.

The second half of the scrimmage involved the second and third teams running 15 plays apiece on offense. The lone score was Bryant’s.

“We did a lot more good things than we did bad but the bad things were really glaring,” Calley remarked. “It was a track meet there for a little while. We’re not going to win many track meets.”

The track meet mostly involved special teams. Pine Bluff scored its first touchdown on an 89-yard kickoff return.

A second score was set up by a fumble that the Zebras scooped up and returned to the 4. It took two plays to score from there.

The third touchdown came after a 51-yard return of a squib kick. The Zebras only needed 24 yards to find paydirt which came on an 11-yard scamper by quarterback Claude Johnson.

Bryant's Logan Garland (4) hauls in a touchdown pass. (Photo by Rick Nation)

Forced to go any distance after that, the Zebras were frustrated by the Bryant defense. They did not score again.

“We got out of that first half what we wanted to get out,” stated defensive coordinator Steve Griffith. “In practice, you can’t simulate game speed of another team. We had not tackled in practice as far as tackling to the ground. We’d done tackling drills but not actual tackling. So, the first quarter, we felt like we might be a little slow to the ball and we were.

“But as we got used to the speed of the game, we played much better. We got an idea of the angles we had to take, just the fact that we had to accelerate things that we did. We made a lot more plays in the second quarter.”

That included three interceptions, two by safety Stanley Oxner and one by corner Tanner Tolbert. Oxner returned the second pick 62 yards for a go-ahead touchdown then Tolbert ended the half with his oskie in the end zone preventing a Pine Bluff score.

Bryant had a couple of turnovers on offense but scored on three of its six possessions. Senior tailback Chris Rycraw picked up where he left off after his record season in 2008. He put the first points on the board with a 48-yard touchdown run on the fourth play of the game. It came a play after senior quarterback Jimi Easterling completed his first pass for 19 yards to senior Brandon Parish.

But the Hornets struggled with their extra points, mostly due to bad snaps. Such was the case after the first score so when Pine Bluff returned the ensuing kickoff for a TD and got a kick to go, it led 7-6.

After Bryant’s fumble and another Pine Bluff score put the Zebras up 13-6, the Hornets took advantage of an 83-yard kickoff return by Tolbert to produce their own short-term scoring drive. From the 11, a pair of runs by senior James Jones and a fourth-down pass from Easterling to Logan Garland made it 13-12. A try for two failed.

Another long return set up another short touchdown drive for Pine Bluff then the teams traded turnovers. Easterling had a pass intercepted but, moments later, Matt Jones recovered a Zebra fumble at the Bryant 41.

With the inside position, Bryant's Tanner Tolber (20) makes an interception. (Photo by Rick Nation)

The teams traded punts and Bryant put together the most impressive touchdown drive of the evening, a 71-yard march in six plays. Easterling’s 19-yard pass to tight end Blake Heil got the march going. After Rycraw dashed for 9 yards, Jones went 21 on a draw play. A play later, he scored from the 3.

But another failed two-point try left Pine Bluff up 20-18 with 5:20 left in the half.

Oxner’s first interception ended the Zebras’ ensuing possession but the Hornets could only get to just beyond midfield before running out of downs with 1:47 left.

It looked like Pine Bluff would finish on top but on a third-and-10 from its own 48, Johnson threw down the middle and was picked by Oxner again resulting in his touchdown return that gave Bryant the final advantage.

Rycraw finished with 78 yards on eight carries. Jones picked up 42 on eight tries. Easterling completed 8 of 13 passes for 55 yards. Five different players had receptions.

“What we needed mainly was to compete against someone else and to realize that we are not where we need to be,” Calley observed. “We were put in our place after that opening score, really quick. That can turn the momentum of a game around better than anything.

“We made a lot of mental mistakes that, hopefully, we can correct,” he continued. “I thought the guys were ready to play. They were mentally ready. They really wanted to go out there and perform well. And we did at times. We did some good things but we always seemed to do something bad to negate the good.

“But that’s why you play a scrimmage. If you go out and do everything perfect, you don’t really get a true evaluation of where you are. And, against a good football team like Pine Bluff that’s well-coached, they’re athletic, if you make the slightest mistake, they’re going to exploit it.

“They gave us a great look. Of course, they run the spread but they also had a little power running game that was really good. They come off the ball and they’ll hit you in the mouth just like Benton’s going to do.”

The Hornets open with the Panthers in the Salt Bowl at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock on Friday, Sept. 4.

Hornets Ross Smith (89) and Kody Perlsen help out Landon Pickett (62) with a tackle. (Photo by Rick Nation)

“Defensively, they were huge up front,” Calley observed of Pine Bluff. “I thought the offensive line, at times, did a really good job. But you also have to consider a lot of those (Pine Bluff) guys are playing both ways. We have a few but not many. So, I feel like we’ve still got a way to go as far as conditioning. The only way to get there is to practice hard and I hope our guys realize that.

“I think we’ll make more improvement between this scrimmage and the Benton game than we have all of fall practice,” he concluded.

In the second half, junior Blake Davidson engineered a scoring drive of 70 yards in 13 plays. He completed 4 of 7 passes for 56 yards on the drive. Completions of 11 yards to Dylan Pritchett and 20 yards to Brodie Nixon got the Hornets deep into Pine Bluff territory. Then the Hornets had to overcome a holding penalty. A nice swing pass from Davidson to sophomore Jacob Powell took care of that, picking up 22 yards to the 3. Moments later, Davidson found Cody Elmore for the score.

In its 30 plays in the second half, Pine Bluff was held to 16 yards rushing and 9 yards passing. Dylan Blasi had an interception for Bryant.

Sophomore Dylan Cross completed 2 of 3 passes for 34 yards in the final quarter in which the Hornets drove to the Pine Bluff 9. Soph Kyler Boyle also completed a pass. Junior Adam Gonzalez made all three of those receptions.

“The second half, we got a lot of guys on the field,” Griffith noted. “We got them on film so we can look at them and see if there’s somebody in that second or third group that might be able to move up and help on Friday night whether it be on offense, defense or special team situations.”

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