Photos by Rick Nation
VAN BUREN — There have been seasons when the Bryant Hornets would deploy in a spread offense, and they’d put up all kinds of passing totals moving the ball up and down the field. But then they’d struggle once they got into the red zone (inside the opponent’s 20).
There, of course, the field is condensed. There’s less area for the 11 guys on defense to defend. There’s less room for receivers to maneuver, to try to get open; tighter windows for quarterbacks to throw into.
And the running game suffers in the spread. Pass blocking is completely different than run blocking. One is finesse, the other often brute force.
Looking back, you can see the years in which that was the case for Bryant based on the rushing totals. For example, in 2012, the Hornets’ leading rusher finished with 235 yards. In 2007, Bryant had just one runner that finished the season with more than 100 yards total, leading the team with 596. In 2005, the top rusher had 310 yards. In 2003, it was 346.
Such is not so this season. Bryant has three players over 400 yards, led by Kylon Boyle with 570, and two more with over 150.
On Friday night, the Hornets faced a spread team. The Van Buren Pointers moved the ball well between the 20s. Quarterback Jordan Barlow completed his first nine pass attempts. Yet, on three of their first four possessions, the Pointers bogged down in the red zone. They could not move the ball on the ground against a Bryant defense that bowed up inside the 20 and forced them to settle for field goals.
Though Van Buren’s Cade Almond drilled all three, the Hornets’ offense, meanwhile, was pounding the ball on the ground with an occasional pass to keep the defense honest. Bryant quarterback Brandan Warner completed his first seven tosses, as a matter of fact. Not only did the Hornets drive the ball on their first three possessions, they cashed in each time — not with field goals — with touchdowns.
The result was a 21-9 halftime lead that expanded to 35-9 in the third quarter as the Hornets continued to grind on offense while the defense got stingier.
Bryant was well on its way to a 49-16 victory that clinched a spot in the 2014 Class 7A State playoffs including a home playoff game, improved their overall record to 7-0-1, their 7A/6A-Central Conference mark to 5-0, and guaranteed that, in two weeks, they’ll be playing the Conway Wampus Cats for a conference championship.
The Hornets travel to distant Siloam Springs next week and Conway visits Russellville but, even if one or both of them slips, the league crown will be on the line when they close out the season in Bryant against each other on Friday, Nov. 7.
Seven different Hornets scored touchdowns against Van Buren. Running backs DeAmonte Terry, Savonte Turner and Kylon Boyle each ran for a TD. Quarterbacks Brandon Warner and Gunnar Burks scored once apiece. Evan Lee hauled in a Burks pass for a TD and, to top it off, linebacker Jordan McDonald ran back an interception for a touchdown, the third pick-6 in two weeks for the Bryant defense.
Barlow wound up completing 16 of 21 passes for 186 yards and the Pointers’ second-half score. But only three of his tosses went to his big-play receiver Jaylyn Dye, whom the Hornets double covered most of the night. Van Buren was held to 93 yards on the ground and a total offense of 305 yards despite the fact that the Hornets were without starting defensive tackle Cameron Murray, who sat out due to illness.
The Hornets rushed for 253 yards, led by Boyle with 108 on 17 attempts. Warner wound up 10 of 14 passing for 132 yards. Burks, on in relief, was 3 for 3 for another 27 stripes. That adds up to 412 yards of total offense and a convincing win.
Field position was a factor as well. Six of Alex Denker’s seven kickoffs went for touchbacks. On the seventh, he only took a three-step approach on the kick and knocked it down to the 5. Van Buren, once again, started at the 20 even after the return but it broke a strike of 10 touchbacks in a row over two games. In all, he’s had touchbacks on 20 of his last 23 kickoffs.
Denker also had a punt that pinned the Pointers at their own 11. His second punt rolled dead at the Van Buren 28, giving the Pointers their best starting field position of the game.
After the first touchback to open the game, Van Buren drove to the Bryant 17, spurred by the lone big pass from Barlow to Dye, which coverted 36 yards. Once to the 17, however, Pointers’ running back Ethan Hudspeth was dropped for a yard loss by linebackers Ben Bruick and Connor Chapdelaine.
Almond kicked a 36-yard field goal.
Bruick wound up leading the Hornets with 12 tackles including three for losses. Chapdelaine was in on 11 stops, Ryan Hall nine and Hunter Fugitt eight.
In turn, the Hornets drove 70 yards in eight plays to score a touchdown. Terry contributed an 18-yard dart and, a play later, scored on a 20-yard sprint. Warner completed a 7-yard pass to Lee along the way as well.
Denker’s extra point made it 7-3.
Van Buren’s second possession went from the Pointers’ own 20 to the Bryant 13. On third-and-3 with Barlow 8 of 8 passing at that point, the Pointers tried to trick the Hornets with a reverse off the speed sweep. Cole Davis wound up with the ball and tried to pass it to Barlow inside the 5. They had hoped the Hornets would lose track of the quarterback on the play but McDonald picked him up and knocked away the pass.
Almond knocked through a 32-yard field goal to make it 7-6 before the Hornets drove 59 yards on 10 plays in response. Terry’s 23-yard return of a short kick on the kickoff gave Bryant great field position. Warner and Lee connected for 9 yards to start the drive and, along the way, Turner dashed for 15 yards. He would cap off the march by scoring from the 1, one play after Boyle had converted a third-and-1 at the 4.
Denker added the PAT and another kickoff into the end zone. The Bryant defense forced a three-and-out twice. The first Van Buren punt was wiped away when the Hornets were caught with an extra defender on the field. The penalty gave the Pointers a fresh set of downs but, again, they went three-and-out and had to punt again. Bruick made the key stop on the second round of that series. On a swing pass from Barlow to Hudspeth, he charged up and dropped the receiver for a 5-yard loss.
This time, Bryant drove 64 yards on just six plays to extend the margin. Warner kept on a nifty touchdown run from 3 yards out. The key play of the drive was a 44-yard completion from Warner to Aaron Orender.
Trailing 21-6, the Pointers drove from their own 20 to the Bryant 7. Barlow’s 56-yard pass to Jonathan Banks covered most of the yardage. But from the Hornets’ 11, Hudspeth picked up 4 yards on two rushes. A third-down pass fell incomplete and Almond returned to the field for a 25-yard field goal.
The Hornets had the first possession of the second half and were forced to punt after driving to midfield. Denker punted the Pointers back to the 11 and, two plays later, Ryan Hall sacked Barlow inside the 5.
Bradley Rodriguez’ punt was short and the Hornets were just 39 yards away from another TD. With Burks calling the signals, they covered the distance in eight plays. Burks contributed the longest run of the drive, a 10-yarder. Boyle capped it off with a 1-yard plunge and Denker booted it to 28-9 midway through the third quarter.
Safety Steven Murdock who had the hit of the night, a form tackle of receiver Tyler Morton, stopped a swing pass to Brandon Chambers for no gain on second down then fellow safety Brendan Young hauled down Dye for a loss on a third-down swing pass.
A punt gave Bryant possession at midfield. Six plays later, the scored was 35-9. Burks completed two passes to Lee on the drive including the TD toss from the 8, in which Lee fought past a Van Buren defender, extending the ball over the goal line with a dive.
Aided by a pair of 15-yard tack-on penalties against the Hornets, the Pointers put up their lone touchdown of the game, driving 80 yards in seven plays. Barlow found Chambers in the back of the end zone for the touchdown. Almond added the extra point to make it 35-16.
The Hornets countered right back with a 74-yard scoring march that took six plays. The drive started with a 28-yard bolt by Boyle and a 28-yard pass from Warner to Orender. Burks wound up scoring from the 2 as the lead extended to 42-16.
With reserves filtering in for both teams, the Pointers were forced to punt. Walker Brown stopped quarterback Tobin Johnson for a loss on a third-down play.
The Hornets ate up all but 3:37 of the game. The punted and Van Buren began one last-ditch effort to cut the lead. They reached the Bryant 45 when McDonald snatched the deflection off a tipped pass at the 38 and returned it for the final touchdown.
HORNETS 49, POINTERS 16
Score by quarters
BRYANT 7 14 14 14 — 49
Van Buren 6 3 0 7 — 16
VAN BUREN — Almond 36 field goal, 8:11
BRYANT — Terry 20 run (Denker kick), 4:52
VAN BUREN — Almond 32 field goal, 0:33
BRYANT — Turner 1 run (Denker kick), 9:07
BRYANT — Warner 3 run (Denker kick), 3:38
VAN BUREN — Almond 25 field goal, 1:24
BRYANT — Boyle 1 run (Denker kick), 5:16
BRYANT — Lee 8 pass from Burks (Denker kick), 1:03
VAN BUREN — Chambers 15 pass from Barlow (Almond kick), 11:20
BRYANT — Burks 2 run (Denker kick), 8:38
BRYANT — McDonald 62 interceptions return (Denker kick), 1:48
Bryant Van Buren
First downs 22 17
Rushes-yds 44-253 36-93
Passing 13-17-0 18-26-1
Passing yds 159 212
Punts-avg. 3-40.3 4-34.3
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-0
Penalties-yds 7-80 2-10
Rushing: BRYANT, Boyle 17-108, Turner 11-63, Terry 4-42, Burks 6-26, Warner 5-13, Dr.Alpe 1-1; VAN BUREN, Hudspect 13-35, Barlow 5-22, Dye 5-16, Bird 6-10, Johnson 2-5, Chambers 2-2, Rapien 1-2, Silva 2-1.
Passing (C-A-I-Y): BRYANT, Warner 10-14-0-132, Burks 3-3-0-27; VAN BUREN, Barlow 16-21-0-186, Johnson 2-4-1-26, Davis 0-1-0-0.
Receiving: BRYANT, Lee 6-53, Turner 3-29, Orender 2-72, Kelly 1-4, Boyle 1-1; VAN BUREN, Rapien 4-42, Chambers 4-25, Dye 3-41, Dasso 3-29, Banks 2-78, Hudspeth 2-(-3).