MARION — As good as they are, the Bryant Hornets are nowhere as good as they are going to be.
Just don’t tell that to the Marion Patriots, who absorbed a 57-17 loss.
But the Patriots didn’t just show up and roll over. They put up a fight. They were just outmanned and their good plays on both sides of the ball just were too few and far between.
Still, Marion, as Bryant head coach Buck James suggested, will probably be better for having played the game. No one in their 6A-East Conference will be nearly as good as Bryant even though the Hornets still have things to work on.
Despite the fact that the mercy rule (running clock) went into effect a third of the way through the third quarter, the game ran long. It was partly because Marion’s junior quarterback Ben Gerrard was just 8 of 24 passing but mostly because there were 25 penalties marked off in the game, including 17 for 167 yards against the Hornets — an indication the focus might not have been what it was at the Salt Bowl a week earlier or for their next game on Friday, Sept. 18, against Trinity Christian of Cedar Hill, Texas, the 38thranked team in the country.
But the Hornets piled up a 43-10 lead by halftime and only an unsuccessful two-point conversion with :07 left kept it from being a mercy-rule game at the half.
Tanner Anderson and Jemarien Bracey each ran for two scores and Austin Ledbetter passed for two while completing 18 of 24 for 317 yards. Hayden Schrader caught one of those touchdown passes. It was one of his eight receptions for 202 yards in the game.
The Bryant defense, despite giving up a few chunk plays, wound up holding the Patriots to 138 yards of total offense, forcing 12 lost-yardage plays including six sacks. Running back Cam Anderson accounted for 88 yards rushing and a touchdown. But seven of Marion’s 13 first downs came by penalty.
The Hornets rushed to score on the first possession of the game, going 80 yards in just five plays. It was impressive.
First, Tanner Anderson caught a swing pass and turned it into a 20-yard gain. Schrader’s first catch picked up 13 then Anderson broke a 27-yard run. Foote came on to carry 14 yards to set up his 6-yard touchdown tote.
And when Marion’s Antonio Grays fumbled the return of the kickoff, Bryant’s Jalun Davis recovered and the Hornets were just 23 yards away from more points.
They reached the 7 and, after Anderson was stopped for no gain, a delay penalty sidetracked the Hornets. Marion gained a little confidence defensively, after they forced the Hornets to settle for a field goal, which Brock Funk drilled from 29 yards out.
The Patriots went three-and-out after Andy Scott dropped Gerrard for loss on first down. Bryant got the ball back at its 31 and appeared to be on their way to another successful possession. But, on a third-and-1 at the 40, Bracey was caught up in a run blitz by the Patriots and lost a couple of yards. Ledbetter’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete and Marion took over just 38 yards from a touchdown.
They picked up a couple of first downs (including one on a defensive holding penalty) but stalled at the 14 where three snaps produced no gain at all. Pieri came on to kick a 31-yard field goal to get the Patriots on the board.
That started a Bryant roll. Jordan Knox made a strong return of the kickoff to get the Hornets 48 yards away from points. Anderson muscled into the end zone from the 2 with 2:47 left in the first quarter. Funk’s extra point was uncharacteristically wide and it was 16-3.
Ledbetter and Schrader, a long-time successful combination, hooked up for gains of 18, 19 and 22 yards on the Hornets’ subsequent touchdown drive with the last connection producing the points. Funk booted it to 23-3. Ledbetter hit all five of his passes on the march, starting a streak in which he completed 11 in a row.
His next pass went 14 yards for a touchdown to Jordan Knox after Pieri’s punt from the Patriots’ 19 was blocked. Brandon Jones covered the loose ball.
With the Hornets’ lead at 30-3, Marion answered thanks to Cam Anderson. On a fumbled snap at the 20, he picked up the loose ball and skirted left end for 19 yards. He got the call on the next play and laced his way 55 yards for a touchdown.
In turn, the Hornets drove from their own 17 to the Patriots’ 28. They were aided by a personal foul penalty then set back by a holding penalty that negated a beautiful 30-yard completion to Schrader.
Anderson converted a fourth-down at the Marion 36, pile-driving behind the Hornets’ o-line of Will Diggins, Jason Shifflet, Jack Powell, Parker Elswick and Brooks Edmonson.
Later, a 22-yard run by Anderson that reached the 9 was wiped out by a holding penalty but the Hornets overcame it too. Seth Everett caught an 18-yard pass from Ledbetter to reach the 29 but the drive stalled there, and they gave it up on downs.
Their next possession added points despite a loss on first down back to the 10. After an incompletion ended Ledbetter’s string, Jordan Knox made a splendid catch on a skinny post and turned it into a 30-yard gain to convert a third-and 23. Ledbetter and Schrader combined on a 43-yard connection, setting up Anderson’s 8-yard touchdown run which made it 37-10.
On their last possession of the half, the Patriots kept a drive alive with a roughing the kicker penalty. Though Rodricho Martin sacked Gerrard, a holding penalty helped them retain possession. They reached the 27 with time running out. Gerrard threw toward the end zone only to have Graham intercept and return 96 yards for a touchdown, the second longest interception return in Hornet history, just two yards shy of the mark set by current Hornets assistant coach Travis Queck set in 2004.
A 63-yard completion from Ledbetter to Schrader set up the next score early in the third quarter. Bracey eventually scored from the 1 and Funk kicked it to 50-10 with 9:50 left.
The mercy rule was thus in effect.
The defense put together a strong series. Linebacker Hart Penfield stopped a swing pass to Bryson Webb for a loss but a face mask penalty provided a new set of downs. Sacks by sophomores Ivory Gilmore and Jaylon Russ on consecutive plays forced the Pats to punt from their own 12.
With reserves working in on both sides of the ball, Marion got a heavy dose of Bracey on a drive that culminated in his second TD from 14 yards out, making it 57-10.
Aided by a pass interference penalty on a third-down play, the Patriots drove to a touchdown as reserves on defense began to take over. Gerrard kept for the touchdown from the 1. It was set up by Webb’s 11-yard run.
Highlights for Bryant after that included a 10-yard run by junior quarterback Carson Burnett and, on defense, a sack by Kevin Taylor. The Hornets used up the bulk of the last five minutes with a drive from its 31 to the Marion 18. Burnett completed a 19-yard pass to Zach Overton while sophomore Chris Gannaway broke a 20-yard run. He later rushed for 10.
Once Bryant got to the 18, Burnett threw again and it was intercepted by Marion’s Tim Dukes with just enough time for the Patriots to run three plays.
The 57 points was the most a Hornets team has scored since a 59-point performance against Little Rock Catholic in 2018 tied a school record for most in a game.