Hornets head to playoffs after notching fourth straight win
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
NORTH LITTLE ROCK — With a thrilling win over then No. 1-ranked Conway, a budding rival, behind them and the first round of the Class AAAAA State Playoffs ahead, the Bryant Hornets might easily have overlooked the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats on Thursday, Nov. 7.
At one point, it looked like the game would be a battle for a playoff spot but the events of Nov. 1, when the Hornets knocked off Conway and North Little Rock lost to Little Rock Parkview rendered it insignificant in that regard as the Wildcats were eliminated from contention.
Though that was even more reason for the Hornets to look past it and North Little Rock to throw in the towel, neither team did. The result was an offensive show that Bryant got the best of, 41-21, improving to 8-2 at the conclusion of the regular season and riding a four-game win streak into the post-season.
And thanks to Little Rock McClellan’s win over Parkview, the Hornets became the fourth seed from the AAAAA-Central Conference, just 8 points from being unbeaten, a tough first-round draw for AAAAA-East Conference champion West Memphis (also 8-2).
Focus didn’t appear to be a problem for Bryant. The Hornets busted out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, forcing turnovers that set up one score and produced another.
Aaron Johnson closed down on North Little Rock quarterback Tim Mason on an option keeper during the first series of the game. Mason lost the ball and Josh White recovered for the Hornets at the ‘Cats’ 42.
Against Conway, senior quarterback Lance Parker produced over 400 yards of offense, ran for a touchdown and threw for three. He followed that up with “merely” 323 yards of offense, one rushing touchdown and four touchdown passes against North Little Rock.
Parker hit a pair of tunnel screen passes to A.J. Nixon (a team-high seven catches for 52 yards in the game) to set up his 16-yard touchdown run.
A play into their subsequent possession, the Charging Wildcats appeared to have a tying score when Mason got free on an option keeper and sprinted 78 yards to the end zone. But a penalty negated most of the run and, on the next play, Cats’ tailback Dunte Artis was separated from the ball. Safety Brandon St. Pierre scooped up the loose ball at the 34 and ran it in untouched.
Todd Bryan added his second extra point and Bryant led 14-0.
Johnson proved disruptive to the North Little Rock passing game on the next series, knocking down consecutive passes at the line of scrimmage. The Cats were forced to punt and, after a short kick, the Hornets drove for score number three. Parker, who completed his first six passes in the game, found St. Pierre for 11, then, after scrambling away from a blitz, threw to fullback David Lister on a 35-yard touchdown play. Lister and Zach Cardinal (six receptions, 128 yards, two TD’s) were both behind the North Little Rock defense which had broken off the coverage in the secondary as Parker appeared to be running.
To their credit, the Charging Wildcats, who finished the season 2-8, continued to battle. A strong kickoff return by Sean Thomas set up the first North Little Rock touchdown drive. A 58-yard pass from Mason to Thomas reached the 1. It took four plays from there against the stout Bryant defense but Mason eventually scored by going wide.
A long return by Nixon on the ensuing kickoff was spoiled by a fumble that North Little Rock recovered. Again, the Cats drove for a score with Mason getting in on a 1-yard run on the first play of the second quarter. Chad Godfrey’s extra point cut Bryant’s lead to 21-14.
The two teams traded interceptions. Linebacker Mark Wright picked off a Parker pass after the Hornets had reached midfield. But on the next play, Travis Wood intercepted a tipped pass to return possession to the Hornets.
The Hornets reached the NLR 28 before a sack spoiled the drive. North Little Rock took over at its 35 and, thanks to the running and passing of Mason moved into scoring position again. The quick-footed Mason contributed a 24-yard run and 40-yard pass to Charles Jones.
From the 7, however, the Cats stalled. On second down, Johnson broke through and sacked Mason for a loss of 14. North Little Rock had to settle for a field goal attempt and Godfrey missed.
Bryant countered with a touchdown march that put them back in the driver’s seat. St. Pierre contributed a pair of 16-yard runs on draw plays and Parker completed four passes including a 24-yarder to Travis Wood and the scoring strike, a 35-yard completion to Bryan.
North Little Rock threatened to answer but ran out of time as it reached the Bryant 22.
The Hornets tacked on a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half. Parker’s 20-yard strike to Cardinal was the first of two for the duo in the half. They later would connect on a 28-yard scoring strike that gave the Hornets a 41-14 advantage with 10 minutes left in the game.
North Little Rock was able to do little in the third quarter as the Bryant defense stepped up. In three series during the quarter, the Cats netted 6 yards of offense.
Again, however, North Little Rock refused to quit. Mason didn’t hit many passes but the ones he was able to complete went for big yardage. A 20-yarder to Brad Owens then an 8-yard scramble set up a 39-yard touchdown pass from Mason to Jones on a fourth-and-10 play with 7:39 left.
The Hornets began to substitute and were forced to punt for the first time. Mason led his team on a last-ditch drive to make the score less lopsided. Thanks in part to a pass interference call, the Cats reached the Bryant 16. But Kevin Carr sacked Mason and two incompletions later, Bryan Griffith intercepted a Mason pass at the 3 to end the threat.
Griffith, the back-up quarterback, led the offense on a drive out to the 43 which left only about 1:20 in the game. But, even after a Bryant punt, the persistent Cats kept charging. Mason led them to the Bryant 35 where, with time running out, he fumbled. Bryant’s Kyle Sterling recovered to put an end to the proceedings.