Hornets, Pointers battle for a share of conference lead

By Rob Patrick

A week ago, because of their previous schedule, the Bryant Hornets were underdogs to the 4th-rankedLittle Rock Catholic Rockets despite playing at home. But the Hornets forged a 21-13 victory.

This week, because of their previous schedule, the Van Buren Pointers are underdogs to the newly 4th-ranked Bryant Hornets despite playing at home.

The Hornets, no doubt, hope to avoid the fate suffered by Rockets. But, with the emotion of that game behind them and a grudge match against Russellville ahead of them, there is a danger.

Couple that with the fact that the Pointers are coming off their first win of the season, 28-24, at Little Rock Central and Van Buren’s success passing the ball last year at Bryant and it could get a little intense.

The fact of the matter is, there’s one more thing that this game has in common with Bryant’s previous out: A share of first place in the 7A-Central Conference is on the line.[more]

The Hornets have been in this position before, the proverbial sandwich game and they have most often found a way to get through them with a win. Though this time, the game doesn’t figure to be over until it’s over. That’s because the Pointers can score. They’re averaging 32.5 points a game. Yet they are 1-2-1 on the season, primarily because they’ve given up an average 44.5 per game.

“We’ve had some problems tackling,” acknowledged Van Buren head coach Mike Lee. “There have been stretches where we just haven’t tackled well, to be honest. It went better last week. We got a little shot of confidence. Central has some backs — though not like (Bryant’s Chris) Rycraw — they are pretty explosive. We felt like we got better in that area.”

The Pointers gave up 36 in a tie with Alma, 56 to Fort Smith Northside and 62 to Rogers before beating Central which had scored just 6 points in three games coming into that contest.

“We’ve had a mixture so far,” Lee acknowledge. “We’ve had our ups, we’ve had our downs but I would say that we have gotten better each week. Where we are, program-wise, that’s our number one goal, to continue in our day-to-day walk of getting better. I feel like we’re achieving that for sure.”

Van Buren has three returning starters at the linebacker spots and they are their leading tacklers, Quinton George, Trevor Farrar and Preston Parks.

Bryant head coach Paul Calley expects the Pointers to load up against the run like most every other Hornets opponent as they try to slow down Rycraw who has gained 653 yards on 75 carries so far this year including 219 yards against Catholic.

“We’ve got to be able to throw and catch the ball,” Calley said. That means continued accuracy from senior quarterback Jimi Easterling who is 29 of 46 for 403 yards and six touchdowns so far this season. Five of those scoring strikes have been to his favorite target senior Brandon Parish (11 catches, 213 yards).

Van Buren quarterback Tyler Spoon has thrown for 827 yards already but his leading receiver Drew White is out with an injury. A pair of Van Buren runners, Connor Joyce and Jacob Jenkins, are over 200 yards each at this point.

“We strive to be balanced and, pretty much, we’ve achieved that so far,” Lee said.

The Pointers play some option football out of a double-wing set, something teams don’t see as much of these days. Calley noted that his team handled the option pretty well last season but struggled to stop the passing game.

It’ll help that starting cornerback Tanner Tolbert should be back after being sidelined with the flu. The Hornets gave up some yardage through the air against Catholic but when the Rockets got in the red zone, it got a lot tougher for them.

“That’s what we’ve got to do again,” Calley asserted. “Bend but don’t break.”

The illness that swept through the team last week appears to have subsided somewhat but Calley said there are still a few that are down and, with each day, there could be others.

So far this season, the Hornets’ top tacklers are linebackers Trey Sowell and Hunter Mayall along with safeties Brady Butler and Stanley Oxner.

“It’s been more business as usual,” the Bryant coach said of his team’s preparation. “We’ve tried to keep it a little bit lower key this week just because last week was so emotional. We’ve done a lot of teaching and kind of backed off the contact a little bit. It’s going to be a physical game with Van Buren. I think our guys will be ready.”

Lee said of Bryant, “I expect the same thing you always expect when you play Bryant. Number one, they’re very sound. Coach Calley and his staff, I don’t know who does a better job than those guys do preparing a football team to win. Obviously, offensively, Mr. Rycraw carries the bulk of the load as he should. He was tremendous last year at about 175, 180 (pounds) and he looks to be put together a little bit better than that this year.

“They have become very innovative on offense with regards to formations and motions and shifts they use and the blocking schemes are very sound and very innovative and very tough to prepare for,” he added. “They give you a lot to think about. You’ve got a pretty good idea that it’s going to end up in (Rycraw’s) hands but, wow, the way they get it to him.

“After this week, I’ll enjoy watching him on film because they do a real nice job at what they do.

“Defensively, they just suffocate you,” Lee stated. “They believe in base defense and they play it well. And I’ll tell you something about Bryant, where they don’t get enough credit, is in their kicking game. They’re kicking game is very, very good. And it does not go unnoticed to coaches.

“You know the biggest thing that jumps out at me though is they’ve got what we want to achieve here,” he concluded. “Their kids play with moxy. Their kids play with a swagger that, quite frankly, we’re trying to achieve.”

Calley predicted, “Van Buren, I’m sure, is going to treat this like the Super Bowl when we come in because we’re a highly-ranked team, they feel like they can match up with us and they’re going to give us a lot of trouble. We’ll need to withstand that early onslaught and make plays down the stretch. And if we turn the ball over and have stupid penalties, we could be in for a dogfight.”


Unofficial through 4 games

BRYANT 55 56 20 20 — 151

Opponents 16 0 6 15 — 37

Team stats


First down 70 41

Rushes-yds 136-934 132-442

Passing 34-58-1 40-81-3

Passing yds 523 404

Fumbles-lost 6-2 11-2

Penalties yds 23-154 28-194


Rushing: Rycraw 75-653, J.Jones 27-188, Powell 14-35, Easterling 10-21, Tolbert 1-15, Garland 1-8, Reed 1-2, Pritchet 1-1, Freshour 1-0, Davidson 2-(-8), Cross 2-(-14).

Passing (C-A-I-Y): Easterling 29-46-1-403 (6 TD), Davidson 5-12-0-120 (1 TD).

Receiving: Parish 11-213, Winfrey 4-112, Rycraw 4-40, Powell 2-34, Arnold 2-27, J.Hampton 2-23, Nichols 2-21, Butler 2-12, Harris 2-10, Garland 1-11, Reed 1-10, Garrett 1-8.

Scoring: Rycraw 42 (7 td-r), Parish 35 (5 td-rec. 5 xtra-pt.), Denker 16 (2 fg {40, 22}, 10 xtra-pt.), Jones 12 (2 td-r), Bullock 6 (1 int. ret.), Butler 6 (1 td-int. ret.), Easterling 6 (1 td-r), Harris 6 (1 td-rec), Powell 6 (1 td-rec), Tolbert 6 (1 ko-ret), Winfrey 6 (1 td-rec.), J.Hampton 2 (1 conv.-pass).

Tackles: Sowell 37 (17u, 17a, 3 st, 1bu), Mayall 29 (12u, 14a, 1fl, 2s, 1int, 2f, 1blk), Butler 25 (9u, 12a, 4st, 1fc, 1int), Oxner 21 (8u, 12a, 1 st, 2bu), Cox 20 (5u, 9a, 3s, 3 st, 1bk), Hampton 19 (6u, 10a, 2tfl, 1s), Heil 19 (9u, 7a, 2tfl, 1s, 1fc), Maxwell 17 (3u, 9a, 3fl, 2s), Bullock 16 (3u, 10a, 1fl, 2st, 1int, 1bu, 2fc), Grimmett 16 (5u, 6a, 1u, 3fl, 1s), Chavis 13 (1u, 5a, 5st, 2fl), Jones 12 (5u, 5a, 2fl), Garland 9 (3u, 6a, 2 bu), Watson 11 (6u, 3a, 2st, 1bu), Tolbert 9 (4u, 3a, 1 st, 1fl), Wise 8 (1u, 2a, 5 st), Blasi 5 (4u, 1a, 3bu), Glasper 5 (2u, 1a, 1 st, 1f), Chapdelaine 4 (1a, 1fl, 2st), Farr 3 (3u), Seal 2 (1u, 1 st), Parish 2 (1u, 1a)

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