LITTLE ROCK — In the process of installing a new system, the Bryant Hornets happened to be scrimmaging a team with a system so ingrained, it’s machine-like.
It was a rugged night in Tuesday’s preseason benefit scrimmage for the Hornets as, all told, the Bruins scored 10 touchdowns to Bryant’s one over four quarters. (The final period was contested by the team’s junior varsity squads.)
But it counts no more that if Bryant had done all the scoring: not one whit. The same as last year when Pulaski Academy came to Bryant and pinned a lopsided loss on the a Hornets team that was on its way to a conference championship, a Class 7A playoff win, then coming within a hair of stunning eventual State champion Fayetteville.
The idea of playing a team as good as Pulaski Academy is to make sure your weaknesses are exposed so you can work to improve things before it starts counting. For Bryant, that’s Sept. 2, at War Memorial Stadium for Salt Bowl 17 against the rival Benton Panthers.
“We played a team a lot better than us,” stated Bryant’s first-year head coach Buck James. “I think probably better in every position on the field. They’re bigger, stronger, worked from when the last game last year was over to get to this point. I think they’ve got great tradition.
“We’ve got to learn,” he continued. “In our first two units, we played eight sophomores. We’re a young, inexperienced football team. Our coaching staff has really just been together since June and we looked like it.
“I mean, they looked like a team that was well-oiled and veteran and good at what they do. On the other hand, we looked like a team that’s trying to figure out our identity, trying to find our way through it and trying to grow up on the hoof. But, you know, that’s a good experience for us. We can’t do anything but grow from here.”
The varsity squads of each team tangled for the first three quarters. Senior Beaux Bonvillain quarterbacked the Hornets through the first period and the first two possessions of the third, completing 9 of 16 passes for 95 yards including the team’s loan touchdown, a 50-yard strike to sophomore Randy Thomas with 2:17 left in the first quarter.
In the third quarter, Bonvillain led the Hornets on a drive to the Pulaski Academy 1 but a fumbled handoff spoiled the effort.
Sophomore Ren Hefley played the second quarter and the one possession in the third. He hit 12 of 20 passes for 73 yards with an interception.
Bryant’s top receiver was Jordan Witcher, who had six receptions for 44 yards. Seth Tucker grabbed four balls for 26 yards and Reece Coates three for 20.
Junior Reid Mobley and sophomore Hunter Ulmer quarterbacked the junior varsity in the fourth quarter.
As for which quarterback will be the starter, James said, “We’ll have to go look at the tape but, you know, I don’t know any quarterback that can look good if the line doesn’t block and the receivers don’t catch. I think those guys probably did a lot better than what it appeared but they’re the ones that don’t look good at the time.
“Beaux’s older and Ren’s an up-and-comer,” he added. “They both can help our football team. We can be a good football team with both of those guys being our quarterback. We don’t have to have just one of them.
“Definitely, Ren needs to grow up and figure out what’s going on, just because of his youth and inexperience in the program,” the coach mentioned. “He probably could’ve gone to their offense and thrown the ball a lot better than he did in ours tonight. If he’d had their offensive line blocking for him over here, it would’ve been a whole different ball of wax.
“It all starts up front with those guys and, like I said, we started two sophomores on the offensive line today and we started two guys that never played football before. It’s going to be a work in progress. We’re going to make an evaluation on it and before Sept. 2, we’ll come up with a starter.”
As it turned out, Bryant only ran the ball 15 plays including five sacks.
Meanwhile, Pulaski Academy’s junior quarterback Layne Hatcher, who started last year, riddled the Hornets with his passing. In three quarters, he was 22 of 34 for 331 yards and three touchdowns.
As is their every-game strategy, the Bruins never punted and only had three of their 11 possessions over the first three periods in which they didn’t score. Bryant forced them into a lot of third- and fourth-down situations but P.A. converted 8 of 15 on third downs and, of those they didn’t convert, they went 4 of 7 on fourth downs.
After punting on their first three possessions, Bryant went for it on every fourth down, setting up some short fields for the Pulaski Academy offense.
“I thought we were in shape,” James concluded. “I thought we played hard. I just don’t think we played very good. I thought we never quit. We got out there and gave good effort.
“Now, we missed a lot of balls. We missed a lot of tackles,” he continued. “If we’d have made a few of those plays early, it definitely could’ve helped a young team get over the hump a little bit and be a little bit better football team in the first half.
“Our hustle was good, I just don’t think we played very well, very sound. But I think Pulaski Academy had a lot to do with that as well.”
Regarding the Bruins’ program, James said, “Their expectation for themselves is so much better than everybody else. If you look at their kids, to a man, they’re physically strong, they’re disciplined, they’re tough, they’re hard-nosed, they don’t want to lose on any play. That’s a part of being in the program for years.
“Coach (Kevin) Kelley’s got them to where they can practice on the moon at midnight. We’ve got to find out that football is not just a part-time thing or a thing you do during football season. It has to be more of a full-time thing. We have guys that have the ability to play but want to do other things. They quit or want to do other things. We have to overcome that, being a new program.
“But it’s just like when (Kelley) came here,” the coach said. “I was at Star City and played them. It was the same thing for him. Programs sometimes just take three to five years to get them where you want them. I told our team, I think someday we’re going to get to that point there. I think our kids are willing to work that hard and I think they’re willing to buy into it. They want to do that. But if you’ve never done it and don’t know how to prepare for it, then you’ll never get there unless you see it. I think that was a great lesson for us to be able to see how well-oiled a machine (The Bruins) really are.”