Hornets square off with ‘mirror image’ Fort Smith Southside in playoff opener

Brandon Parish and the Bryant Hornets passing game will be key factors in tonight's playoff game against Fort Smith Southside. (Photo by Rick Nation)

By Rob Patrick

Naturally, the Bryant Hornets coaching staff was rooting for Russellville to beat Cabot last Friday night. They were hoping to gain the No. 3 seed from the 7A-Central Conference which would match them up against the No. 6 seed from the 7A-West.

Not that playing the Springdale Bulldogs again this year in the first round of the playoffs would’ve been any picnic — far from it. It’s just that almost every time you play a team seeded lower, it’s better. And it didn’t help that, as the No. 4 seed (which they ended up securing because Cabot beat Russellville), it pitted them against the Fort Smith Southside Rebels.

For one thing, that pits them against some old friends. Bryant head coach Paul Calley played at Henderson State University and one of his teammates was Southside defensive coordinator Keith Fimple. And, later, when Calley was serving as a graduate assistant on the Reddies staff, two of the players on the team were current Rebels head coach Jeff Williams and offensive line coach Tadd Stewart.

And the two staffs and their teams used to battle each other when Williams and company were at El Dorado.

“It’s fun to play those guys but it’s also nerve-wracking because you certainly don’t want to lose to them,” Calley commented.

“I know when we were at El Dorado for a long time, we’ve always had great games,” Williams noted. “I expect the same thing this time.”

The last time these two teams met Williams’ Rebels built a 21-0 lead by halftime and Bryant, sparked by a blocked punt, battled back to tie the game at Southside in 2007.[more]

Then there’s the fact that Southside won a State title in 2006 under those guys and, this year, was the only team to beat defending State champion Bentonville.

“They’ve got a very good football team,” Calley said of the Rebels. “Without turnovers, they’re probably sitting at the top of their conference right now.

“It’s probably the worst draw we could’ve gotten,” he added. “They’re very tough against the run.”

And, of course, that’s what the Hornets do best with senior tailback Chris Rycraw, who eclipsed his own school record for rushing in a season last Friday. He’s rushed for 1,517 yards this season.

“They’re going to be sound and they’re going to play hard,” Calley said.

Williams countered, “People don’t realize about Bryant, I don’t know this officially, but over the last 10 years they’re probably one of the winningest programs in the state as far as regular season records. That just shows what kind of job that coaching staff does over there. They do a great job and they’re consistently always winners. Their kids know how to win, they do a great job in the kicking game. They’re just very, very well coached and their kids always play hard.”

Actually, Bryant is No. 2 in wins (to Fayetteville) over the last seven seasons. (Calley said that Fayetteville coach Daryl Patton, whom he used to serve as an assistant at Bryant, called him and reported that statistic.)

The Hornets defense will be faced with a power running game from Southside.

“They’ll pound you and pound you then take a shot down the field,” Calley mentioned. “We kind of mirror each other.

“The advantage they have is they’ve played a lot of close games,” he added.

The Rebels started the season with a loss to Little Rock Catholic but then won five in a row including the stunner over Bentonville.

“We’ve had a pretty good year,” Williams said. “We hit a little skid there at the end. We had 16 turnovers in three games and we got beat by Fayetteville by 6 points, got beat by Har-Ber by 3 points in overtime and then we got beat by Heritage by 2 points. So we’ve played pretty close all year, very competitive. When we don’t turn it over, we usually have a chance to win and when we do, we don’t.”

They bounced back in week 10 with a win over crosstown rival Northside, driving for a winning score in the last three minutes of the game.

“We play pretty good defense, we’ve got a couple of pretty good running backs, a good offensive line,” Williams said. “On offense, Lee Hollis and Julius Jones at running back and Tyler Falleur at wide receiver — they’ve been our main three weapons on offense. (Receiver) Quai Anderson’s another guy and Alex Nolan, our tight end.

Hollis is the leading rusher on the team with 602 yards and 13 touchdowns. Jones spells him and brings more speed. Falleur is the leading receiver with 40 catches for 641 yards and five TDs. Anderson is the speed receiver. Quarterback Hunter Whorton is 74 of 120 for 1,059 yards and six touchdowns with four interceptions.

The passing stats are very similar to Bryant’s with quarterback Jimi Easterling 79 of 140 for 995 yards, 11 touchdowns and five picks. Brandon Parish is the leading receiver with 36 catches for 540 yards and nine TDs.

“We don’t have a lot of stars on defense but we’re the second-leading defense in the conference,” he added. “They just play really well together.”

Linebacker Kameron Beeler is the Rebels’ top tackler. Defensive tackle Sean Robison leads with eight sacks and safety Matt Carman has picked off three passes.

“We’ll have to play almost perfect to beat them,” Calley said. “We’re going to have to find a way to run the ball. They’re going to play us a lot like Russellville did, I think.”

Once again, throwing the ball will be key for the Hornets along with field position, so the kicking game may be a huge factor.

“We’ll need to make them go a long way and not get any big plays,” Calley said. “We’ll need to give ourselves a chance to stop them in the red zone.”

Said Williams, “Just like Bryant’s conference in the Central, it’s pretty even throughout our league. We were maybe one or two plays away from going undefeated in the conference. But it is what it is and we’re not. But we’ve got a pretty good football team and Southside traditionally has done pretty good in the playoffs and hopefully we’ll play well and be able to compete.

“Going to Bryant will be very, very difficult,” he added. “They’ve got a really good team. Coach Calley does a great job with them.”


Unofficial through 10 games

BRYANT 135 111 47 20 — 313

Opponents 23 21 49 28 — 121

Team stats


First down 165 106

Rushes-yds 377-2,120 353-1,365

Passing 89-160-5 60-143-4

Passing yds 1,201 703

Fumbles-lost 15-5 19-6

Penalties yds 61-471 71-526


Rushing: Rycraw 230-1,517, J.Jones 45-251, Powell 39-101, Easterling 32-80, Garland 2-54, Tolbert 2-42, Freshour 4-31, Reed 4-23, Arnold 7-20, Harris 2-11, Winfrey 1-2, Pritchett 2-(-9), Cross 2-(-14), Davidson 4-(-18).

Passing (C-A-I-Y): Easterling 79-140-5-995 (11 TD), Davidson 9-18-0-159 (1 TD), Tolbert 1-1-0-47 (1 TD), Rycraw 0-1-0-0.

Receiving: Parish 36-540, Garland 18-249, Rycraw 10-78, Arnold 5-61, Winfrey 4-112, Nichols 3-43, J.Hampton 3-26, Powell 2-34, Butler 2-12, Harris 2-10, Reed 1-10, Garrett 1-8, Heil 1-6.

Scoring: Rycraw 108 (17 td-r, 1 td-rec), Parish 59 (9 td-rec. 5 xtra-pt.), Denker 52 (7 fg {40, 22, 42, 26, 42, 31, 37}, 31 xtra-pt.), Jones 18 (3 td-r), Garland 24 (2 ko-ret., 1 td-r., 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 12 (1 td-r., 1 td-rec), Tolbert 6 (1 ko-ret), Winfrey 6 (1 td-rec.), J.Hampton 2 (1 conv.-pass).

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