Junior Hornets roll to sixth straight win, eye 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
With their closest competitor (Cabot South) and biggest rival (Benton) looming ahead, and a pair of wins in which they invoked the “mercy” rule at halftime behind them, the Bryant Hornets freshman team could’ve been vulnerable to a upset when they hosted the Sheridan Stingers on Thursday, Oct. 11.
The fact that the Stingers are winless probably didn’t help head coach Jason Hay and his staff sell that notion to the team but it was worth noting that the Junior Hornets had only beaten Sheridan at Bryant once since 2000. Plus, the Stingers have been coming on lately, almost beating Benton the week before.
“It’s hard,” Hay acknowledged. “We knew Sheridan was oh-fer but you’ve got to respect them because they’re Sheridan. They’re always going to be tough. The last time they were here, they ran up and down the field on us.”
And there’s always this: No Bryant freshman team has gone undefeated since the mid-80’s, before these Junior Hornets were born. And a conference championship hasn’t happened since Bryant joined the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference either.
If there was any of that looking ahead for the Hornets, it didn’t last long. Sheridan started the game with a drive to the Bryant 25 before the defense rose up and stopped the march (with the help of an intentional grounding penalty). Bryant took over on downs and quickly put up the first points of what turned out to be a 35-0 win.
Incredibly — though, this time, they didn’t do it by halftime — it was the third week in a row that the Junior Hornets forced the “mercy” rule to be invoked.
The win improved Bryant to 6-0-1 overall this season, 5-0 in the South Division of the league. They can clinch the Division title and a berth in the league championship game with a win at Cabot South on Thursday, Oct. 18. Cabot comes into the game at 6-1 and 4-1 following a win over Little Rock Catholic.
“Every week is a conference championship for us,” Hay declared. “That’s kind of cliche but next week, that’s it. That’s for real.
“We’ve been hitting our stride,” he noted. “Hopefully, we can keep it going for about three more games.”
The win over Sheridan was the team’s third shutout of the season. The Junior Hornets’ defense has allowed just 6 points all season — on an early touchdown by Lake Hamilton on Sept. 13 — before the fourth quarter (when the coaches have been trying to get everyone some playing time almost every week).
Sheridan managed just 85 yards of total offense despite that strong start and having possession of the ball for all but six plays in the second half. In the first half, the Stingers finished with a net of 41 yards with 38 of that coming on one play.
And the Bryant defense contributed to the scoring, twice picking up Sheridan fumbles for scores.
“The defense always does good,” Hay asserted. “(Defensive coordinator) Coach (Kenny) Horn’s always got them going. Joseph Stroud and Matt Jones had those big fumble recoveries for touchdowns.
“We didn’t execute as well as we have the last two weeks (on offense),” he added. “We had a couple of dropped balls but it’s hard to expect 35-0 at the half in every game. We got to it in the third quarter, thanks to the defense.”
Bryant led 20-0 at intermission and got the ball to start the third quarter. A couple of penalties, however, sabotaged their possession and they punted for the only time all game.
Tanner Tolbert booted the Stingers back to their own 14 and two plays later, on a third-and-5, quarterback Cody Elmore tried to pick up a bad snap and was hit by the Bryant rush. The ball came loose and Jones scooped and scored.
A pass from Blake Davidson to Caleb Garrett added a two-point conversion and it was 28-0.
On Sheridan’s next possession, Hunter Mayall knifed through and dropped running back Alden Fletcher for a loss of 6 back to the 15. Fletcher was then stuffed by Holden Chavis, Austin Johnson and others, setting up a third-and-15 from the 16. Again, a bad snap haunted the Stingers. With the rush, led by blitzing linebacker Jordan Moore bearing down on him, Elmore again tried to pick up the loose ball. He was hit and the ball squirted into the end zone where Stroud pounced on it for the TD.
Bo Stitch tacked on the extra point and Bryant had its 35-0 lead which triggered the “mercy” rule in which the clock rolls non-stop except for timeouts by the teams or the officials.
On their final drive, the Stingers moved from their own 9 to the Bryant 38 before another fumble was recovered by Kody Perlsen.
Bryant had taken the lead initially on a 15-yard touchdown run by Dylan Pritchett, capping its first possession of the game. A 45-yard pass from Davidson to Garrett, who reached high to make a nice catch, set up the score.
Johnson, Moore and Jacob Brady combined on a sack of Elmore to help the Hornets force Sheridan to punt it back moments later.
The Hornets got the ball back at the Stingers 45 but after a 16-yard pass from Davidson to Josh Hampton, a holding penalty pushed them back to their 44. They got 12 of the 28 yards they needed to get a first down on a swing pass to Pritchett, then 12 more on a throw to Tolbert. The ball was knocked loose at the end of the play but lineman Steven Lacamu was hustling downfield for the Hornets and covered it to save the possession.
On fourth and 2 at the 20, Pritchett powered for a 4 yards and a new set of downs. Three plays later, he scored from the 1, his 13th touchdown of the season.
Fletcher got loose for a 38-yard run on Sheridan’s next possession, getting the Stingers to the Bryant 37 but an illegal block pushed them back to midfield on the next play and, on a third-and-19 from the 46, Johnson sacked Elmore for a 10-yard loss forcing a punt.
A bad snap, however, resulted in punter Morgan Gill getting tackled for a 3-yard loss and the Hornets took over at the Sheridan 41. An illegal block cost them a 25-yard run by Tolbert then Davidson was sacked back to the Bryant 42.
On the next play, however, Davidson threw a bubble screen to Tolbert who sliced through the Sheridan defense for 58-yard touchdown. Pritchett ran in the two-point conversion and Bryant led 20-0 going into the final minute of the half.