By Chris Morgan
BENTON — Prior to the kick-off of the always completive rivalry game between the Bryant Hornets and the Benton Panthers, the teams shared a solidarity moment. Meeting in the center of the pitch, the teams huddled together for a moment of silence for Panther soccer player Ethan Boyer.
Boyer, a senior, is currently undergoing treatment for a rare form of bone cancer. The moment was shared by both teams and fans alike as Boyer kicked off the opening kickoff for the Panthers.
“Be respectful,” coach Richard Friday said in the pre-game meeting with the team. In a rivalry like Bryant and Benton, this can sometimes be forgotten.
This meeting wound up in a tie, 1-1.
The game was aggressive from the start, both teams having scoring opportunities in the first 10 minutes.
The Hornets’ first real chance came with 25 minutes left in the half. The ball was crossed into the Panther keeper box when junior Martin Ramirez headed the ball off the side of his head, drifting the ball just left of the net.
The rest of the half was dominated by the Hornets’ midfield; however, the Panther defenders held their own, only allowing five shots in the half.
All signs pointed to a tie at halftime.
The Hornets were rewarded a corner kick with 20 seconds left. The corner was struck when senior Ricky Barrientos delivered a header, getting the ball past the Benton keeper producing a 1-0 lead going into the halftime break, and gave Bryant all the momentum.
The Hornets looked like a new team in the second half. They started 11 fresh, who had not started in the first half.
This strategy worked well until 30:22 left in the second half, when a Panther cross hit the hand of a Hornet defender giving Benton a penalty kick. Benton would capitalize scoring their goal.
“I wanted to give everyone a fair shake before going into conference next week,” Bryant coach Richard Friday said. “This won’t be the strategy in conference play. I will play my best players the majority of the game and will only sub for one or two.”
Coach Friday did not immediately react, showing how much trust he had in his ‘second string’ players.
“You have to give them the chance to go out and play,” he said, “I gave them about 20 minutes to get in and get their stuff together.”
With 24 minutes left, both teams looked to make changes, bringing on both squads of first-half starters. This changed the whole dynamic of the game as both teams frantically looked for any open chance to score.
In this frantic scene, Benton picked up two yellow cards and the Panthers’ keeper and the Hornet Barrientos had to be separated by the ref after a confrontation prior to a Hornet run.
After the hard fought last 20 minutes neither team could pull away with a late goal.
Next, the Hornets kick off conference play on Tuesday, March 13, at Fort Smith Northside.