Hornets strive to finish strong one more time

File photo by Andrew Schroeder


Whether it’s a block, a tackle, a play, a drive, a game or a season, it’s what the best teams do well.

And the best high school team in Arkansas for almost three seasons now has been the Bryant Hornets. They finished 2018 with a Class 7A championship then followed up with an unbeaten season in 2019 that finished with another State title. 

This year, they’ve won 12 in a row, extending a winning streak to 29. On Saturday at 12:10 p.m., at War Memorial Stadium, they will try to finish one more time. To make it 13 wins in a row this season, a nice even 30 straight overall, and a third championship.

No doubt, they will be remembered fondly regardless of the outcome on Saturday. But, if they don’t win that 30th in a row, it will taint the memory. And they’ll never get another chance to make it up. 

A win would seal this team’s legacy — led by a group of seniors who have won 36 of their 38 games over three years — as one of the best in the history of high school football in Arkansas.

Standing in their way will be an old nemesis, the same school they’ve faced in their previous two title games, the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats, who will be playing in their fifth consecutive final. Of the previous four, they have won just once in 2017. They are no doubt hungry to turn the tables on the Hornets under new head coach J.R. Eldridge.

The Charging Wildcats were the last team to defeat the Hornets. Back on Oct. 26 of 2018, the Cats outlasted the Hornets, 34-28.

It’s a rematch not only of past finals but from the regular season. And the Hornets, under head coach Buck James, have a phenomenal record in rematches. Since losing a rematch with North Little Rock in 2016, Bryant has won all eight of its playoff games that were rematches from earlier in each season.

These Bryant Hornets have been remarkable.

They’ve rewritten much of the Bryant program’s record book with numbers that won’t be fully realized until after Saturday’s game. They’ve done it passing and running; defensively; individually and collectively.

It all starts with the Hornets’ line play. As great as any skill player may be, their opportunity to perform to their talent is unleashed by the offensive line. And the Hornets have a great bunch, led by seniors Jack Powell and Parker Elswick and juniors Will Diggins, Brooks Edmonson and Jason Shifflet.

With that group providing the impetus, the Hornets have already set a record for total offense with 5,917 yards (old record was 5,644 in 2019) with quarterback Austin Ledbetter continuing to rack up individual marks along with receiver Hayden Schrader and running back Tanner Anderson and Jamarrien Bracey.

“Our offensive line has been the cornerstone of our offense, for sure,” acknowledged Hornets head coach Buck James. “They’re always unsung heroes. They’re always the guys who don’t get their name in the paper. But those five guys — really those 10 guys — have done a phenomenal job.”

The coach referred to back-ups Hayden Walsh, Octavio Resendiz, Gage Alexander, Justin Orender and Grayson Freel.

“They’re an interesting group of guys,” James continued. “They’re unselfish. You know, a couple of them could be really good defensive players. Yet they wanted to be on the offensive side of the ball and to do their jobs there. They’re big and strong. They’re tough and tenacious.

“It’s where it starts, in the trenches,” he asserted. “It’s why they say, ‘hit the line,’ you know? The line of scrimmage is vital. 

“And, really, our defensive line and our offensive line for the past three years have done a really good job,” the coach stated. “If we run the football, it’s because we have great running backs, but we have a great offensive line. If we throw the ball well, it’s because we’ve got a great quarterback and great receivers, but it’s because we have a great offensive line as well. 

“Those guys probably haven’t received the accolades they deserve but our coaches and our team and, I think, our community understands what they’ve been able to do.”

The most recent defensive record broken is for sacks in a season. The old record was 45 set just last year, which broke the record set in 2018. This year, the Hornets have over 50. No one individual is close to the individual record of 15 set by Nate Wallace in 2018 — Rodricho Martin leads with eight — but 20 different players have had at least one sack.

“That says a lot,” James commented. “That says a lot for our defensive backs too. Our defensive backs, they got burnt a few times here and there. Everybody can see that. But those guys have done a good job and they’ve played well in big games.

“Our linebackers have got to play well this week,” he mentioned. “When they’ve got a fit and they tackle, those guys — this is probably the biggest game they’ll ever play in. Our d-backs are going to have to compete against every pass thrown. They’re going to be covering speed. 

“When you get your linebackers and your d-backs doing right, then your defensive line will shine. And it’s the same way on the other end. If your defensive line does their job, then the linebackers and the defensive backs shine as well.

“That’s why it’s such a great game,” James declared.

Taking a broader view, the coach reflected on the things that have made the Bryant Hornets a championship juggernaut.

“I think we’ve got good coaches who demand and expect a lot every day from those kids,” he related. “And we’ve got kids who understand it. And, more importantly, we’ve got parents who let us coach their kids. I’m not going to say we don’t have a few problems here and there but, for the most part, our parents let us coach their kids. 

“Our coaches love those guys,” he asserted. “They love them just like their own sons and they coach them just like their own sons. They want those kids to be successful. And there’s a high expectation on that practice field every single day; high expectation in that weight room and what Coach (Chris) Jordan does with them. 

“We demand a lot. We expect a lot. And the guys that started this five years ago did this in faith. They thought, ‘If we do this, it will change who we are.’ And, really, we owe it to those guys. Those are the guys that set the table and changed a culture with ‘Hey, we’re going to be in the weight room. We’re going to watch film. And we’re going to practice hard and we’re going to play harder.’ 

“That’s sort of the m.o. of what’s going on here. We’ve got guys willing to play, willing to practice and willing to prepare then play their best.”


2020 stats through 12 games

Score by quarters

Opponent        44        64        27        50 — 185

BRYANT        210      238      98        60 — 606

Team stats

                        Opponent       Bryant

First downs     167                  267

Rushes-yds      365-1231         422-2838

Passing            150-328-13     175-280-7

Passing yds     2176                3079

Fumbles-lost   24-9                 13-6

Penalties-yds   59-564             79-740


Rushing: Anderson 115-999, Bracey 104-876, Foote 92-537, Gannaway 34-182, Ledbetter 35-143, Nichols 15-61, Burnett 14-51, Earle 6-22, Singleton 6-7, Motes 1-6.

Passing: Ledbetter 162-253-5-2959 (41 TDs), Nichols 6-12-1-54, Burnett 3-7-1-38, Motes 4-8-0-38.

Receiving: Schrader 68-1417, Nichols 36-426, Anderson 16-223, J.Knox 11-257, Young 6-201, Everett 6-123, Foote 6-116, Hale 6-75, Hendrix 5-37, Gregory 4-109, Gannaway 3-19, Curtis 2-25, Bracey 2-19, Overton 1-19, Humphreys 1-14, Montgomery 1-5, Rawls 1-3.

Scoring: Schrader 119 (20 td-rec, 3 conv.), Anderson 84 (13 td-r, 1 td-rec), Bracey 82 (15 td-r), Funk 75 (66 of 70 PATs, 5 fg-29, 22, 29, 31, 27), Foote 54 (8 td-r, 1 td-rec), J.Knox 42 (6 td-rec, 1 kickoff return), Nichols 42 (7 td-rec), Young 18 (3 td-rec), Ledbetter 12 (2 td-r), Everett 12 (2 td-rec.), Fuller 9 (6 of 7 PAT, 1 fg-27), Graham 6 (1 int.ret), Gregory 6 (1 td-rec), Melton 6 (blocked kick recovery in endzone), Hendrix 6 (fumble recovery in endzone), Burnett 6 (1 td-r), Ky.Knox 6 (1 int.ret)


Tackles: Penfield 86.5, Melton 62, R.Martin 59.5, Aldridge 56, Scott 53, Godwin 39.5, Jones 34 (20s, 7a, 5sacks, 2TFL), Kaleb Knox 31 (29s, 3a), Schroeder 29 (23s, 5a, 1TFL), Burton 26 (14s, 12a), Brown 24.5 (14s, 9a, .5sack, 1TFL), Kyle Knox 19 (13s, 5a, 1sack), Del Castillo 19 (9s, 4a, 4sack, 2TFL), Mosley 20 (11s, 3a, 3sack, 4TFL), Brumfield 19 (16s, 2a, 1sack), J.Russ 15 (5s, 6a, 2.5sack, 1.5TFL), Bracey 11 (3s, 4a, 2 sacks, 2tfl), Weston 13 (6s, 6a, 1sack), Harris 10.5 (7s, 2a, 1.5TFL), Booth 8 (5s, 3a), N.Davis 8 (7s, 1TFL), Gilmore 7 (4a, 3sack), Taylor 7 (3s, 2a, 1 sack, 1tfl), Ma.Graham 5 (4s 1a), Rice 4 (3s, 1a), Moore 4 (1s, 2a, 1sack), Flores 4 (3s, 1TFL), Coleman 4 (2s 2a), Reidmueller 3 (2s, 1a), Carey 3 (1s, 2sack), J.Davis 4 (4s), Albarron 2 (2s), Ede 2 (2s), Robinson 2 (1s, 1a), A.Martin 2 (1s, 1a), Mi.Graham 2 (2s), Hare 1 (1s), Dakota 1 (1s), Cornelius 1 (1s), Baker 1 (1s), Kinley 1 (1s), Dickerson 1 (1s)

Solo tackles: Penfield 42, Melton 36, Aldridge 32, Martin 30, Ka.Knox 29, Scott 27, Schroeder 23, Godwin 21, Jones 20, Brumfield 16, Burton 14, Brown 14, Ky.Knox 13, Mosley 11, Del Castillo 9, N.Davis 7, Harris 7, Weston 6, J.Russ 5, Booth 5, J.Davis 4, Ma.Graham, 4, Bracey 3, Taylor 3, Rice 3, Flores 3, Coleman 2, Reidmueller 2, Mi.Graham 2, Carey 1, Albarron 2, Ede 2, Robinson 1, A.Martin 1, Hare 1, Dakota 1, Cornelius 1, Baker 1, Kinley 1, Moore 1, Dickerson 1.

Assists: Penfield 29, Melton 21, Aldridge 20, Martin 15, Scott 13, Burton 12, Brown 9, Godwin 8, Jones 7, J.Russ 6, Weston 6, Schroeder 5, Ky.Knox 5, Del Castillo 4, Bracey 4, Gilmore 4, Ka.Knox 3, Mosley 3, Booth 3, Brumfield 2, Moore 2, Harris 2, Taylor 2, Coleman 2, Ma.Graham 1, Rice 1, Reidmueller 1, Robinson 1, A.Martin 1.

Sacks (54.5): Martin 8, Godwin 7, Penfield 6.5, Jones 6, Scott 4, Del Castillo 3, Aldridge 3, Gilmore 3, Carey 2, Mosley 2, J.Russ 2, Bracey 1.5, Melton 1, Ky.Knox 1, Brumfield 1, Flores 1, Taylor 1, Moore 1, Brown 0.5 

TFL (50): Penfield 9, Scott 8, Martin 6.5, Godwin 4.5, Melton 4, Mosley 4, Jones 2, Del Castillo 2, Bracey 2, Harris 1.5, J.Russ 1.5, Schroeder 1, Brown 1, N.Davis 1, Taylor 1, Flores 1.

PBU: Schroeder 9, Brumfield 7, Ky.Knox 6, Kaleb Knox 5, Ma.Graham 5, Penfield 3, Aldridge 3, Melton 3, J.Davis 2, J.Brown 2, Mi.Graham 2, N.Davis 1

Forced fumbles: Martin 3Kyle Knox 1, Penfield 1, Burton 1, Bracey 1, Jones 1, Mosley 1

QB hurry: Martin 23, B.Jones 10, Godwin 8, Mosley 6, Scott 3, Russ 3, Penfield 2, Jones-Kertis 2, Melton 2, Gilmore 2, Del Castillo 2, Bracey 1, Aldridge 1, Diggins 1, Moore 1, Reidmueller 1

Fumble rec: Bracey 1, Ka.Knox 1, Schroeder 1, Godwin 1, Melton 1

Interceptions: Ma.Graham 3, Penfield 3, Ky.Knox 2, JBrown 2, Schroeder 1, Ka.Knox 1, Brumfield 1, Melton 1, Booth 1

Blocked punt: B.Jones 1, Scott 1, Godwin 1.

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