Hornets seek to finish better against Russellville this year

From left, Justin Rauch, Landon Pickett, Kaleb Burns and Tyson Abernathy (81) anchor the left side of Bryant's offensive line. (Photo by Rick Nation)By Rob Patrick

It wouldn’t really be right to call it a revenge game. Bryant head coach Paul Calley will tell you, his team’s loss to the Russellville Cyclones in 2008 was as much on him and his team as anything. He also gives kudos to the Cyclones for taking advantage and turning a 13-0 deficit with two minutes left in the game into a 14-13 win.

Still, the Hornets that are back for the 2009 season would like nothing better than to make up for that.

Bryant comes into the game off to their best start since the unbeaten 1999 season. They are 5-0 and 2-0 in the 7A-Central Conference.

Russellville is 3-1-1 and 1-1.

Two things are pretty certain: They’ll be playing in the mud, Russellville’s kicker Zach Hocker will be impressive and so will Bryant’s running back Chris Rycraw.

Bryant and Russellville are the only two Class 7A schools that don’t have artificial turf on their respective fields. The Hornets’ field was already chewed up and saturated before the most recent bout of storms. As messy as it was when Little Rock Catholic came to Bryant two weeks ago, Calley says it’s much worse now.

(But there’s no truth to the rumor that the players would be decked out in hip-boots.)[more]

Hocker, meanwhile, has made a name for himself with his booming kickoffs and long-range field goals.

“When he kicks off, it usually goes through the uprights,” Calley mentioned. “And if they get past midfield, they’re in field goal range.”

Calley said that the kicking game and field position will be pivotal and the wet weather, he said, has prevented the team from working on it much this week.

“The kicking game can help you win or cause you to lose,” he noted.

Rycraw, meanwhile, has already compiled 733 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. He’s on a pace to equal or surpass the school records he set last year in both categories without matching his school-record for attempts. If he reaches the 1,514 yards he picked up last season, he’ll shatter Matt White’s record yardage for a career of 2,866 yards.

Brandon Parish escapes Van Buren tacklers. (Photo by Rick Nation)

“They’re going to run the football at us,” acknowledged Cyclones coach Jeff Holt. “They’ve got an excellent running back, probably one of the best, if not the best, in the conference. They’ve got a good offensive line, so they’re going to try to run the football then play-action and throw over our head. That’s what they’ve done. That’s what’s been the key to their success. We’ve got to be able to stop the run. That’s going to be big for us.”

Almost as certain as those three facets of the game is that it will be a close game. Since the two teams renewed their rivalry in 2004, only once has the game been decided by more than a touchdown. That was Bryant’s 22-13 win at Russellville in 2006. Along with last season’s 1-point game, Bryant won 10-7 in 2007 and they tied, 13-13, in 2005. The Hornets won a wild one, 33-28, in 2004.

“I think we’ve been evenly matched,” Holt commented. “This is probably the most talented Bryant team that we’ve seen since we’ve been playing. It’s going to be a difficult challenge for us going down there.

“We’re a lot alike,” he added. “We usually don’t have just the giants like a Southside or a Springdale Har-Ber or a Little Rock Central or a North Little Rock.”

“They’re a lot like us with the type of athletes they have,” Calley concurred. “They’re well-coached, they can throw and catch, they defend the spread well. We’re almost mirror images of each other.”

Lately, Bryant’s moved a little more toward the running game, Russellville still likes to throw it with a vast array of route combinations.

Not so certain is the availability of Russellville’s senior quarterback Barrett Hughes, who has thrown for over 800 yards this season. Holt said Lane Reves, a 6-3 sophomore, will get the start. Hughes was banged up in the 19-6 win over Little Rock Central last week.

“He’s probably not going this week,” Holt said Wednesday. “He’s a senior, a good player. He’s really improved from last year. I’m proud of the way he’s improved. He’s done a good job there but Lane is a very talented young man.”

Regarding his team’s season to this point, Holt said, “It’s gone pretty much as expected. We had, going in, a lot of holes to fill on defense. Our kids have done a pretty good job of filling in there. Offensively, we thought we’d be better and we’ve been better. Of course, our kicking game has been really good. We knew going in that would be good.”

Besides Hughes, Holt said, “Our tailback has done a good job, Jacob Sparks. He’s run the ball really well. Averian Collins has been a good receiver for us. Demarius Neal has been a good tight end for us. In each game, five or six different guys have caught the football. We’ve been able to spread it around and that’s always nice when you can call plays and not have to worry about who’s getting the football.”

Sparks has rushed for just 303 yards in five games but he’s scored four times and also caught 16 passes for 126 yards.

Holt added that his team will have to execute against Bryant’s defense.

“They’re so solid on defense,” he explained. “They play good, sound fundamental defense, don’t take a lot of chances. They make you have to beat them. And that doesn’t happen very often either. They’re very good up front.”

The Hornets are led in tackling by linebackers Trey Sowell and Hunter Mayall but the play of the front four has made that possible. Calley said Ben Seale, who earned a starting not at defensive end last week and played well, may not be available due to illness.

Bryant has a rotation of d-linemen that start with Seale and Ryan Cox at the ends with Josh Hampton and Dustin Grimmett inside. Matt Jones and Ronnie Maxwell see lots of time inside and Hampton sometimes slips outside to end.

Russellville, on the other hand, deploys in a 3-4 defense.

“Our secondary is really good,” Holt stated. “We’ve got a group of guys back there that are pretty good, Bradford Webb, Andrew Tryon, Jon Olson and Jackson Jacobs. Up front, we’re better than we thought we were. Ru Massey has done a good job up front for us and Ty Osborne. They’re small as far as linemen go but we use our quickness on defense. We’re just not very big.”

To augment Rycraw, the Hornets have used play-action for much of their passing success. Senior Jimi Easterling has produced a nice completion percentage, hitting 40 of his 60 passes for 597 yards and nine touchdowns. Brandon Parish has made 17 of those receptions for seven of the touchdowns but last week Logan Garland stepped in with five catches including a one for a score.

Calley still second-guesses himself about last season’s final two minutes but adds, “My hat’s off to them. They did what they had to do to win.

“But, yeah, it’s a sore spot,” he admitted. “As it ended up, though, it made us stronger. We came back the week after that with our best performance of the year. We were starting to click before Jimi got hurt.

“But, yes,” he concluded, “I’ve been thinking about it ever since we got on the bus to leave Van Buren last week.”


Unofficial through 5 games

BRYANT 86 63 34 20 — 203

Opponents 23 0 6 28 — 57

Team stats


First downs   88 54

Rushes-yds 171-1,100 168-698

Passing 46-75-1 42-90-3

Passing yds 739 419

Fumbles-lost 7-3 13-4

Penalties yds 29-202 33-229


Rushing: Rycraw 88-733, J.Jones 32-215, Powell 22-52, Easterling 12-35, Freshour 2-20, Tolbert 1-15, Harris 1-11, Garland 1-8, Reed 3-4, Arnold 1-3, Davidson 2-(-8), Pritchett 2-(-9), Cross 2-(-14).

Passing (C-A-I-Y): Easterling 40-60-1-597 (9 TD), Davidson 6-14-0-142 (1 TD), Rycraw 0-1-0-0.

Receiving: Parish 17-323, Garland 6-85, Winfrey 4-112, Rycraw 4-40, Nichols 3-43, Powell 2-34, Arnold 2-27, J.Hampton 2-23, Butler 2-12, Harris 2-10, Reed 1-10, Garrett 1-8.

Scoring: Rycraw 54 (9 td-r), Parish 47 (7 td-rec. 5 xtra-pt.), Denker 26 (3 fg {40, 22, 42}, 17 xtra-pt.), Jones 18 (3 td-r), Garland 12 (1 ko-ret., 1 td-rec.), 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 41, Mayall 32, Butler 29, Heil 24, Oxner 23, Bullock 23, Cox 22, Hampton 21, Chavis 19, Watson 19, Maxwell 18, Grimmett 18, Jones 14, Tolbert 14, Wise 11, Garland 9, Chapdelaine 4.

Tackles for losses: Maxwell 3, Grimmett 3, Heil 3, Jones 2, Hampton 2, Chavis 2, Mayall 1, Bullock 1, Chapdelaine 1, Smith 1, Tolbert 1, Sowell 1. Sacks: Cox 4, Mayall 2, Maxwell 2, Hampton 1, Heil 1, Grimmett 1, Bullock 1.

Special team tackles: Chavis 6, Wise 5, Butler 4, Sowell 4, Cox 3, Watson 3, Glasper 3, Tolbert 2, Winfrey 1, Perlson 1, Smith 1, Clements 1, Seale 1, Freshour 1.

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