Another win, another shutout; Mustangs whip Conway White
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
CONWAY — Offense, defense, special teams — most coaches say that if their team can win the battle with their opponent in two of those three facets of a football game, they should win.
The Bryant Junior High Mustangs have been getting the best of all three in their first five games of this season. But, on a wet night at Conway’s John McConnell Stadium, two of three worked out just fine.
The Mustangs returned a pair of punts for touchdowns and continued to dominate defensively as they improved to 6-0 on the season with a 12-0 victory over the Conway White Wampus Kittens on Thursday, Oct. 10.
“It was the first time we had a little bit of adversity,” commented Mustangs head coach Terry Harper. “We puttered a little bit offensively but the defense stepped it up.”
Conway was forced to punt six times and twice, the Kittens could not contain on the return. On the second play of the second quarter, Zach Kitchens fielded the second punt of Conway’s Jake Ballard and sliced through the Kittens on a 64-yard touchdown return.
The 6-0 lead held at the half.
And, on the Ballard’s second punt of the second half, John Isabell scooped up a rolling punt, hesitated, then sprinted 65 yards for a second TD.
It wasn’t as though the Bryant offense was inept. In fact, forced to run the football by the Conway defensive scheme, the Mustangs produced yardage and ball control if not points, as Zach Kellum charged for 111 yards on 17 carries, his finest performance of the season. Kellum, wearing jersey No. 34 instead of his familiar 22 because of a fire at his family’s home, may want to just stick with his new number.
Meanwhile, Bryant’s first-team defense, which has allowed just one touchdown all season (as a team, the Mustangs have only allowed 18 points in six games), notched its second shutout in a row, third of the season. Conway White managed just two first downs in the game, both in the second half. The Kittens never crossed midfield. The one time they actually made it to the 50 (midway through the second quarter), they lost yardage on the next two plays and turned the ball over with a fumble that Zach Sanders recovered.
“The defense played outstanding again,” Harper said. “The defense has been constant. The offense has been constant too until tonight. But when we needed to sustain some drives, we did. We should’ve punched it in a couple of times but we kind of went backwards. We had a few mental breakdowns.
“And Conway did some things that we hadn’t seen. They took away our sprint-out. They had a good scheme and did a good job. But we got it on film and we’ll adjust.”
Conway’s scheme frustrated the Bryant passing game. Quarterback Anthony Mask was just 1-of-11 in the air and he was sacked once. Kellum and the offensive line took up the slack.
“Kellum did a heck of a job carrying the football,” said Harper. “He did a good job when we needed to run some clock.”
That one pass completion came on Bryant’s first possession of the game but it only served to make up ground that had been lost on a holding penalty. On a fourth-and-12 at the Conway 35, the Hornets gave it up as another aerial fell incomplete.
The two teams exchanged punts until Kitchen’s scoring return. On the ensuing kickoff, a 26 yard return by David Walker got Conway its best field position at its own 41. A 9-yard run by Travis Lonix made it second-and-1 at the 50.
But the Kittens were denied a first down in Bryant territory as Zach Scott buried Lonix for a loss of 2 on the next play, setting up a third down. Quarterback Grant Garlington was then separated from the football and Sanders recovered for Bryant.
In the second half, Conway picked up its initial first down on the second play. Landon Ezell broke a 17-yard run, the longest gain of the night for the Kittens. But, on the next play, Ezell was knocked for a loss by Sherief Qassas. Lance Hodges and Dustin Holland combined to stop Garlington with no gain on second down and a third-down pass fell incomplete.
Bryant, in turn, drove to the 19 but the Mustangs couldn’t overcome a penalty there on third down and turned the ball over on downs with 1:15 left in the third period.
Moments later, Ballard was punting again and Isabell was off on his touchdown run on the return.
Conway ran three more plays and punted again with just over half of the fourth quarter still to go. Bryant took possession at its own 35 and, behind Kellum, drained the clock to clinch the win.