ARKADELPHIA — Already four receivers short due to injury and camp attendance, the Bryant Hornets overcame[more] blistering heat (literally) and a blistering pace that tested stamina on the new turf at Henderson State University to capture the Reddies’ first high school 7-on-7 tournament on Saturday.
The Hornets, some of whom were developing heat blisters on the soles of their feet and others who had to drop out due to cramps, played eight games between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., with a short break for lunch and another during the losers bracket final. They went 7-1 including a last-minute win in the championship game against Little Rock Catholic. Hayden Lessenberry and Hayden Daniel connected on the winning touchdown with just 50 seconds left in the game.
Lessenberry, a starter as a sophomore last season, threw 19 touchdowns with just two interceptions in the tournament while Wesley Akers, who will be a sophomore this season, tossed 12 touchdown passes with just two picks.
The top receivers were Sawyer Nichols with nine touchdown receptions, Dillon Winfrey with eight and Ben Clark with six.
In pool play, the Hornets opened with a 28-14 win over Ashdown then edged Catholic, 23-21, in overtime. Bryant topped Benton 35-14 but then suffered its lone loss, 30-28, to Fordyce. In bracket play after lunch, the Hornets dismissed Poyen 30-14. In a rematch with Ashdown, they prevailed 20-11 to reach the winners bracket final against Catholic. With a 35-21 win, Bryant advanced to the championship game and gained a much-needed respite while Catholic and Fordyce battled in the losers bracket final. After Catholic won that one, they challenged the Hornets again in the finals.
The two teams battled to a 21-21 deadlock before the Hayden connection struck for the clincher at the end. Daniel, who will be a junior, has only recently returned from a concussion suffered during the high school baseball season.
The Hornets were already without receivers Austin Powell (hamstring) and Devon Sears (hip) due to injury as well as Karon Dismuke and Madre London who were attending Razorback Camp in Fayetteville. Then they lost two linebackers, Parker Dunn and Tyree Reese, as well as defensive back Aaron Bell to cramps. Bell, in fact, was taken to the hospital for and IV.
“We had a lot of guys that did their part,” stated Bryant offensive coordinator Dale Jones. “In the finals, we were playing for the championship with three of our defensive starters not even on the field. At one point, we’re sitting there with Ben Clark, Hayden Lessenberry and Wesley Akers out there at linebacker.
“We’re really proud of the kids,” Jones stated. “(Hornets head) Coach (Paul) Calley commented on how proud he was, considering the time frame and how many games we played and how limited we were just going in with the guys missing and guys cramping up. We got hit with a lot of adversity and I thought we stood up to it pretty good.
“The guys really came together, “ he added. “And it wasn’t like we were dragging and loafing. Our guys were hustling the whole time. We even talked about just leaving at one point but the kids were adamant about staying. They wanted to stay and win the tournament before they came home.”
Lessenberry threw all four touchdown passes in the game, two to Winfrey and one to Nichols before the game-winner to Daniel.
“We have turf so we’re used to the turf but I think that’s the first time all year we’ve played a 7-on-7 tournament on turf,” Jones mentioned. “It took its toll on us. I think it got up to 101 Saturday and we had two or three guys that had blisters on the bottom of their feet.”
In the first match-up with Ashdown, Lessenberry threw touchdowns to Clark and Nichols. Akers hit Nichols and Winfrey, who was back in full stride after overcoming a hip flexor early in the summer.
“It’s nice to have him back healthy,” Jones mentioned.
Akers started and threw two touchdowns in the overtime win over Catholic, one to Nichols and another to Clark. Lessenberry tossed one to Winfrey. The game was tied at 21 at the end of regulation and, according to Jones, the overtime was a unique.
“We flipped a coin and Catholic wanted the ball so they got three downs from the 10,” he explained. “If they scored, they win. If they don’t score, we get awarded two points and we win.”
And the Rockets didn’t score as Jesse Johnson, Travis Royal and Dunn each broke up passes during the series.
“The defense played real exceptional, especially in overtime,” Jones stated.
Lessenberry fired four touchdown passes against Benton, two to Charles Henson and one each to Jalen Bell and Nichols. Akers added a TD toss to Greyson Giles.
“The one to Jalen was just a little out route,” Jones noted. “He made one kid miss, another kid miss and was off to the races. It was an amazing play.”
Of the loss to Fordyce, Jones said, “We just didn’t execute very well offensively is the reason we lost.”
Lessenberry threw TD passes to Winfrey and Nichols. Akers connected with Henson and Clark for scores and had an interception.
Against the fledgling program at Poyen, Akers passed for touchdowns to Daniel and Henson; Lessenberry found Clark and Daniel for scores. Aaron Bell contributed to the scoring with an interception.
Jones described the rematch with Ashdown as “an odd game.” That’s because over the first four possessions nobody scored. Lessenberry found Nichols for a score but also threw a pick. Akers teamed up with Clark for a score but he too suffered an interception.
“The defense definitely won that game because we had three interceptions,” Jones said.
Aaron Bell had two and Johnson had the third.
In the winners bracket final victory over Catholic, Lessenberry contributed touchdown passes to Nchols, Winfrey and Clark while Akers and Nichols connected twice.
“They tried to play Sawyer a little different in that game and he made them pay for it,” Jones mentioned.
“It was a real good way to close out 7-on-7,” the coach concluded. “We’re going to work out all this week and on Monday then we’re going to give them a little extended period to let everybody’s legs refresh a little bit before we start practice on the first.”
After the start of fall practice on Aug. 1, the Hornets will host Pine Bluff in a pre-season scrimmage on Aug. 22. The annual season-opening Salt Bowl against the rival Benton Panthers is set for Friday, Sept. 2.