Hornets overwhelm upset-minded Tigers

Logan Burton (67) helps clear the way for Braylon Butler (13). (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

For more photos of this event by Rick Nation, go here; by Kevin Nagle, go here

Austin Bailey (45) blocks a Little Rock Central punt with teammate Josh Salguerio alongside. (Photo by Rick Nation)

You’ve seen it happen. A heavy favorite takes their opponent too lightly, makes a couple of mistakes, gives up a score or two and suddenly they’re in a dogfight.

You just can’t give an underdog a chance.

And, on Friday night at home, the Bryant Hornets didn’t. The Little Rock Central Tigers, trying to rebuild under a new coach and staff, never got comfortable, never really threatened and the Hornets rolled to a 56-0 victory to improve to 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the 7A-Central Conference, retaining a share of first place.

On offense, the Hornets racked up 347 yards with five different players getting in the end zone, led by senior running back Latavion Scott’s three TD runs. It might’ve been more, but the Hornets had great field position all night thanks to a defense that force the Tigers into 16 lost-yardage plays, four fumbles and a net of just 16 yards rushing.

Derek Rose and Jabin Gulley had interceptions. David Shifflet and Brayden Godwin recovered fumbles.

Hornets’ receiver Grant Botti (5) breaks a tackle as he heads upfield. (Photo by Rick Nation)

And the Bryant special teams were notably effective, primarily with their kick coverage and their punt return unit. Austin Bailey blocked a punt and, when another Central punt attempt in its own end zone resulted in a fumbled snap, Damian Constantino tackled the Tigers punter Keeling Baker inside his own 1.

Those plays set up two of Bryant’s four one-play touchdown drives.

“I was really proud of our team,” said Hornets head coach Buck James. “We didn’t leave a lot out there. There’s not a lot of negatives. And that’s what we needed. We needed a game like that. Hopefully, we can improve off of that.

“Offensively, I thought we capitalized on every mistake they made,” he related. “We moved the ball. We had one ball that hit us in the hands and they intercepted. Other than that, I thought we played well, about as good as we can play offensively. Our offensive line blocked well. Our running backs did a really good job of running after contact and getting extra yards. I thought the receivers blocked well. It wasn’t a night where we just went out there and threw the ball a bunch, but we took what they gave us and did a really good job with that.

River Gregory (10) cradles a pass reception as a pair of Central Tiger defenders converge. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

“Defensively, we’ve got to play better on the edge,” the coach mentioned. “We let them catch some balls and then they got some runs after the catch with the short stuff. We’ve got to do a better job there. Our special teams played great. Our kickoff team, unbelievable job.”

The Tigers got down quickly. Daylan Land made a flying tackle on the opening kickoff for Bryant and Central had to start at its own 13. They picked up a first down then Kajuan Robinson sacked quarterback Lawson Gunn and the Tigers couldn’t make it up. When they punted, Bryant gained possession at its own 48.

With Scott gashing the Central defense behind tremendous blocking from Logan Burton, Tanner Wilson, Josh Stevens, Clay McElyea and Blaise Smith, it took the Hornets six plays to score. Scott covered the final 12 yards and Bryant was on its way with 7:45 left in the opening quarter.

Ahmad Adams (35), Catrell Wallace (88) and Josh Salguerio (30) reached Central running back Samuel Franklin (5) as Jabin Gulley (4) looks to get in on the tackle. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

A sack by linebacker Jake Wright led to Rose’s interception and the Hornets took over at the Tigers’ 23. Quarterback Ren Hefley, who was 5 of 7 for 40 yards in the first half, fired a strike to Josh Robinson for the first one-play TD drive.

Grayson Scoles added his second extra point and it was 14-0 with 5:20 still to play in the first quarter.

Thanks to a pair of short passes by Gunn to Dajun Brewer that Brewer turned into first-downs, the Tigers drove into Bryant territory for the first time. They got to the 34 before Nate Wallace spoiled a swing pass from Gunn to Antoine Westbrook for a loss of 6 and, on fourth down, tracked down Gunn for a 7-yard sack.

Josh Robinson breaks a tackle on the way into the end zone with a touchdown reception early in Friday night’s game. (Photo by Rick Nation)

Given possession at their own 47, the Hornets used seven plays to get to the Central 24. But, on a second down pass, Hefley’s throw ricocheted off his receiver’s hands and into the arms of Central safety Johnnie Brooks.

Hoping to take advantage of the momentum swing, the Tigers tried some dipsy-doo with a double reverse. But Land stayed home and cut down Brewer for a loss of 10, spoiling those plans.

The teams traded 60-yard punts resulting in the Tigers starting at their own 13. On third down, Cameron Scarlett and Nate Wallace brought down Gunn for an 8-yard loss at the 6. Baker retreated into his own end zone for another punt, but he fumbled the snap, was flushed out by Catrell Wallace and somehow found his way out of the end zone before Constantino tackled him just beyond the goal line.

Scott scored on the Hornets’ second one-play drive to make it 21-0 with 4:16 left in the half.

Koby Melton made a big stop on the kickoff return. And, with Bailey making a couple of lost-yardage stops, Gunn’s third-down pass was intercepted by Gulley who returned it to the 12 only to have a holding penalty negate most of that.

Derek Rose (14) returns an interception with an escort from Jake Wright (39). (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

Still, the Hornets had just 50 yards to go for another score. Hefley picked up 25 yards on three scrambles and completed passes to River Gregory and Jake Meaders to set up Scott’s third TD run from the 1.

Scoles booted it to 28-0 with less than a minute left in the half.

The half ended with Nate Wallace sacking Gunn again for a loss to 10.

The Hornets got the ball to start the second half and Ledbetter completed his first two passes to Grant Botti and Meaders, setting up the 31-yard touchdown bolt by Ahmad Adams. With Scoles’ kick, the lead was 35-0 and with 10:50 left in the third quarter, the mercy rule was in effect. The clock rolled.

Bailey blocked Central’s next punt and Josh Salguerio recovered at the Tigers’ 10. From there, Braylon Butler scored on the Hornets’ third one-play TD drive. Brock Funk added the extra point as the lead ballooned to 42-0.

Latavion Scott takes advantage of a block by Tanner Wilson, left, as Central’s Yusef Muhammad (26) tries to set for a tackle. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

A big hit by Hart Penfield on the ensuing kickoff return had Central backed up again and, on their second snap, the ball came loose and Shifflet claimed it for Bryant.

It took the Hornets two plays to score, both runs by Butler. He carried it in from the 17 to make it 49-0.

The final Bryant score was special. Another fumble foiled a Central drive that reached the Hornets’ 38. But Godwin covered the fumble at the 39.

Ledbetter found Hayden Schrader free roaming down the middle of the field. The receiver was hit around the 20. With the help of fellow receiver Brandon Jett, he spun past two defenders. Three more attached themselves to him at the 15. Covering up the ball with both arms, Schrader, with Jett still behind him, carried two would-be tacklers to the 5 where three more Tigers arrived and made contact.

Bryant head coach Buck James discusses a no-call by the officials with a side judge. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

At about that time, receiver Jaeger Burks and lineman Isaiah Acker joined the scrum pushing the pile to the 2-yard line. Another pair of Tigers joined in as did Hornets’ linemen Reese Dawson, Mitchell Jones and Jacob Reynolds, receiver Miles Aldridge, running back Treyvon Herron — even Ledbetter — arrived to help push. Nine Hornets joined Schrader to push into the end zone for a 61-yard touchdown play, the fourth one-play TD drive of the night.

It was the longest touchdown pass of the season so far and it set the final score with around 6:22 left to play.

On Central’s final possession, a tackle for loss by Penfield sabotaged the Tigers’ last stand.

The Hornets travel to Fort Smith to play the Southside Mavericks next Friday.

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