Bryant + football = Championship; Hornets bounce back to claim title
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, BryantDaily.com will continueposting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By ROB PATRICK
When the Bryant Hornets football team reported to the fieldhouse for fourth block on Thursday, Nov. 1, they were confronted by their head coach Paul Calley with a stern look on his face and directions for the seniors to report to the locker room, and the juniors and sophomores to report to separate film rooms.
There was silence.
After everyone was accounted for, the coaching staff gathered the seniors and the underclassmen who figured to play most in that evening’s crucial regular-season finale against the Little Rock Central Tigers in one of the film rooms. The lights went low and together they watched the last time Central came to Bryant.
It was 2004 and the Tigers were in the middle of an incredible run to a pair of State championships and ranked nationally; in the midst of a run during which they lost just one game. And it was that night at Bryant, one of the great wins in the history of the Hornets program capped by a dramatic last-minute drive and a 15-yard touchdown pass from Anthony Mask to Dustin Holland with six seconds left in the game for the 22-19 victory.
It was also the last time a Hornets team claimed a conference championship.
The film session had the desired effect.
The Hornets took an early lead, suffered through some adversity but rebounded from it in typical fashion and pinned a devastating 28-13 loss on the Tigers, an outcome that not only garnered another league title for Bryant but knocked Central out of the playoffs.
Central tied for third but lost out on points to Cabot which upended Russellville 55-42, a result that allowed the Hornets to enjoy an undisputed title for the first time since the program’s breakout year of 1999.
The Hornets, 8-1-1 overall, thus earned homefield advantage in the Class 7A playoffs, opening on Friday, Nov. 9, with a rematch from last year against the Fayetteville Bulldogs coached by former Bryant head coach Daryl Patton. Fayetteville is the No. 4 seed from the 7A-West with a 6-3-1 record. The Bulldogs earned their bid with a win at Van Buren on Friday night and a Bentonville will over Rogers. Thursday, Patton was among those at Bryant Stadium.
“We were ready to play tonight,” asserted Calley after the win.
The defenses controlled the game early. Dropped passes and some close no-calls on possible pass interference infractions contributed to the Hornets’ struggles while Central, sticking to the ground game, managed just one first down on its first four possessions.
The Tigers ended up punting the ball a whopping 10 times in the game.
Bryant quarterback Logan Parker got hot late in the first quarter and completed six straight passes to five different receivers on a 59-yard touchdown drive. Sophomore Chris Arnold became the fifth of those receivers to make a catch, hauling in an 18-yard pass for the TD.
Austin Bradley kicked it to 7-0 with 2:26 left in the period.
Central failed to get a first down as safety Logan Cruise broke up a pass and a punt gave the Hornets possession again at the Tigers 49. Completions to Jake Jackson (on his way to nine receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown) and Taylor Masters (nine catches for 98 yards and a score) reached the 32 as the quarter ended.
But that’s where the drive stalled. Sensing a chance to get the run-oriented Tigers down by two scores, the Hornets went for it on fourth down instead of punting. The pass was dropped and Central took over on downs, gaining momentum.
Shifting to a power-I formation with twin tight ends, the Tigers went all out to its power running game against the undersized Bryant defense with Tim Dunn carrying eight straight times on a 68-yard drive to paydirt and a 7-7 game.
Take away that drive, however, and the Bryant defense limited Central to just 100 yards of total offense and four first downs in the game with 52 of those yards and two of those first downs not coming until late in the game after the Hornets had established their 15-point advantage.
Defensive coordinator Steve Griffith explained that the Hornets made a slight adjustment with safeties Dijon Benton and Logan Cruse to counteract Central’s move.
Junior middle linebacker Austin Humbard wound up leading the Hornets with 16 tackles, 12 of them unassisted. Benton finished with 10, Cruse and linebacker Dexter Barksdale eight each.
Central was still able to take the lead when Aaron Nichols intercepted a pass and returned it to the Bryant 9. A play later, Dunn scored to make it 13-7.
But Walker Hawkins missed the extra point.
Funny how something so little can sometimes mean so much.
“Just the missed extra point gave us hope because we knew our defense was going to show up to play in the second half,” Calley acknowledged. “Defensively, we did a great job on them. They got a little burst of momentum there when we went for it on fourth down. I thought that was a chance to take control of the game.”
The Hornets made a bid to regain the lead late in the half. Parker got hot again and completed five passes in a row to get to the 14. On a third-and-1, however, Parker tried to sneak for the first down and was stopped short. With under two minutes left in the half, Calley had his team go for it again, faking a run and throwing to the end zone. But Parker’s throw was tipped and intercepted in the end zone and it remained 13-7 at the half.
The Tigers got great field position after Nichols’ second interception ended Bryant’s first possession of the second half. And they managed a first down before the Hornet defense rose up and stuffed two running plays. Quarterback Randy Rankin misfired on a pair of passes (with Benton knocking down the fourth-down attempt) and the Hornets offense returned to the field.
They tried to get something going on the ground and Aspen Trevino picked up 4 on first down but lost a yard on second. When a third-down pass was dropped, the Hornets were forced to punt.
Central, in turn, went three and out and that’s when Bryant’s offense got into gear. Parker hit 6 of 7 passes on an 80-yard march with Masters making a spectacular catch and run on the 26-yard scoring play, leaping into the end zone just inside the pylon at the goal line.
With the game tied at 13, the Hornets had a little confusion on the extra point attempt because of an injury to starting tackle Jordan Jacobs during the drive. They used a timeout to make sure everything was set and it paid off as Bradley calmly laced the extra point to give the Hornets the lead they would not surrender.
On the ensuing kickoff, Central’s Bo Dillon bobbled the ball initially at the 6 then returned out past the 15 where the Hornets, led by Chad England, belted him, knocking the ball loose. Adam Harris covered it and the Hornets were 17 yards away from another score.
It came three plays later with Jackson making a leaping catch in traffic for a 5-yard touchdown pass. Bradley made it 21-13.
And the fired up Bryant defense got even tougher. Humbard made an eye-popping tackle on Dunn as he appeared to break free off right tackle, holding the play to 3 yards.
Senior defensive end then tripped up Rankin for no gain and, on a sweep, knifed through to drop Kaelon Kellybrew for a loss.
The teams traded punts with the Hornets gradually gaining field advantage for the clinching touchdown drive. From their own 42, they drove for the score using 10 plays and eating up four minutes of clock.
A nice catch and run by Jackson got the march started, the first of six consecutive completions by Parker. Masters caught a 10-yard throw to get to the 12.
Two plays later, the Hornets converted a third-and-10 when Tim Floyd posted up the defensive back at the goal line and cradled in a Parker aerial at the 1. Trevino carried it in from there and Bradley made it 28-13 with 6:08 to play.
Using a formation in which half of the offensive line set up in front of Rankin and the other half set up wide in front of a receiver or back, the Tigers drove to the Bryant 14 but, on third-and-1, Raylen Cantrell ran down Rankin as he tried to roll out and pass.
A fourth down pass was knocked down by Cruse in the end zone and the Hornets took over on downs at the 25.
Bryant then went to the ground game against the disheartened Tigers, weary from rushing the passer on over 60 called pass plays. Trevino pounded them for 42 yards on four carries to the Central 33, eating up the final 2:40.