Blocked punts key Hornets’ 31-0 romp
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
It’s one of those positions that the average fan will take for granted. No one notices who’s doing the deep snapping on punts until something goes awry.
But it’s a vital position. The kicking game can make a huge difference in a football game and the kicking game starts with the deep snapper.
And the Bryant Hornets have been blessed in that regard for many years. In fact, a former Hornets Jason Gentry, now an assistant coach at Mountain Home, actually earned a college scholarship based in large part on his deep snapping ability. (He was a pretty fair lineman as well.)
This year, the punt snaps have been handled by senior Zac Scott and he’s been solid. Sophomore Craig Tull has done the job lately for extra points and field goals.
Like a pass from your quarterback, you want a nice, firm, tight spiral on those deep snaps; get it back to the punter or the holder quickly and efficiently. Timing is everything in the kicking game.
For the Little Rock Hall Warriors, however, deep snaps were a problem when they took on the Hornets in a crucial AAAAA-Central Conference game for both teams at Bryant Stadium on Friday, Oct. 14. In fact, the snap on the Warriors’ first punt actually fluttered back to Brandon Winston almost end over end.
It was something the Bryant coaching staff noticed in game films preparing for the game. And were the Hornets prepared!
The Hornets nearly blocked that first punt but “nearly” didn’t apply for a pair of later punts. Bryant blocked two, setting up the first two touchdowns of the game. In fact, the Warriors got so desperate to get off a punt cleanly, they started to quick kick our of the shotgun but, even then, the Hornets got another block which again led to a short touchdown drive on their way to a 31-0 victory.
Senior Jon Isbell set a new school record with four rushing touchdowns in the game, tying the school mark for overall TDs in a contest as the Hornets bounced back from a disheartening 18-17 last-second loss to Little Rock Central to keep their post-season hopes alive and well going into the final three weeks of the season. The Hornets came into the game tied with Little Rock Hall at 1-2 in conference play. Bryant improved to 3-3-1 overall, 2-2 in the league. Hall dropped to 3-4 and 1-3 with its playoff dreams in major jeopardy.
The two teams were playing for perhaps the last time in regular-season action. Bryant made it 4-0 against the Warriors since joining the AAAAA-Central. In those four games, the Hornets have outscored the Warriors 147-16.
“We bounced back,” acknowledged Bryant head coach Paul Calley, referencing the Central stunner. “I stressed before the game, I stressed all week how important the kicking game was. Against McClellan, it really gave us a boost in momentum and got us off to an early lead, which we did again tonight.”
The Hornets blocked two punts in a 40-21 win over McClellan two weeks ago and narrowly missed blocking a kick or two against Central, which certainly could’ve changed that outcome.
The teams had traded punts before Chris Clement got to Winston’s second kick with just under seven minutes left in the first quarter. Bryant got the ball at the Hall 27 and needed four plays to get points. Isbell’s 1-yard dive came after quarterback Anthony Mask connected on an 18-yard pass to Dustin Holland that helped overcome a holding penalty which had the Hornets facing a first-and-goal from the 19.
Isbell, a physical runner, wound up with 86 yards on 22 carries. He also caught six passes for another 20 yards. And when senior Zach Kellum entered the game in the second half in Isbell’s relief, he added another 62 yards on 10 carries.
It was Bryant’s most balanced offensive night of the season, rushing for 179 yards while passing for 184. Calley said it was just another case of the Hornets “taking what the defense gives you.”
“They played six in the box,” he noted. “We kept two backs in there most of the time. I felt like we could run due to the scheme they played last year but they played a little bit different. They played the old Pine Bluff split four defense inside and it makes it tough. But we popped it and had some success running the ball. Isbell had a great night.”
Another wide receiver, Hunter Stobaugh, still recovering from a break in his hand, got back in on the action as Isbell’s blocking back.
The Hornets’ second score came after Zach Kitchens got to a Winston punt just before the end of the first quarter. The Hornets got the ball at the Hall 31 and, in eight plays, found paydirt with Isbell crashing in from the 2 after he had picked up 8 earlier in the drive to convert a fourth-and-1 from the 22. Mask passed to Kitchens for 9 yards then Isbell set up the touchdown with a 3-yard run.
Jordan Knight kicked the extra point to make it 14-0 with 8:49 left in the first half.
Hall picked up its second first down of the half on its next possession as Winston, subbing for starting quarterback James Richardson who turned an ankle and was moved to wide receiver, hit Brett Moncrief for 11 yards. But, a play later, Bryant’s Dennis Holland, a 5-10, 165-pound defensive tackle who was playing safety earlier in the season, dropped Winston for a 15-yard loss.
On fourth down at the Bryant 47, the Warriors lined up as if to go for it though they needed 15 yards for a first down. Winston, in the shotgun, took the snap and punted, getting the kick away this time. And it rolled dead at the 1.
Bryant proceeded to drive 99 yards in 13 plays to go up 21-0 and eating up six minutes of the second quarter.
And it wasn’t all ground game. Mask completed a 42-yard pass to Holland that almost went for the score on the fourth play of the drive. On the way down the sideline, Holland, who juked past two or three defenders, stepped out of bounds at the Hall 43.
A play later, a fumbled snap and a late handoff to Isbell resulted in a 14-yard loss but Mask came back on the next play and hit Jake Jackson for 35 yards. Again Jackson appeared to be on his way for the TD only to step on the sideline at the 17.
A 9-yard pass to Isbell got the ball to the 8. A play later, Isbell crashed to the 3 to convert a third-and-1. He scored two plays later from there with 1:17 left in the half.
In the third quarter, the Hornets sputtered offensively. Fumbles ended two of the first three possessions (the other was a three-and-out), but the Bryant defense stepped up, holding on a fourth down after the first turnover. After the Hornets punted, Cody Williams intercepted a pass and, after the second fumble, they forced a three-and-out with Lance Hodges almost intercepting a third-down pass.
The Bryant secondary, which has struggled against the deep pass this season, allowed just one completion over 15 yards and that was a 29-yarder after the Hornets had taken a 28-0 lead.
“The kids worked hard all week, staying after practice and working on deep balls and we did a better job of reacting to them and running though the deep balls,” commented Bryant defensive coordinator Steve Griffith. “We’d been in decent position some earlier. We had the tendency to kind of float while the ball’s in the air. This week, we did a really good job of running through those balls and getting ourselves in position to make plays. We’re hoping that’s going to continue.”
“We kind of fizzled in the third quarter,” Calley said of the offense. “The fumbles — we had three turnovers? Unbelievable. You can’t beat good football teams turning the ball over. Our defense responded and kept them out of the end zone but it’s frustrating to play so well in the first half . . . Everything was good. We’re running, we’re passing then we turn the ball over.”
It was still 21-0 when the fourth quarter began. When Chris Sonaysene foiled a draw play on third-and-17 from the Hall 30, the Warriors lined up to go for it and, again, Winston kicked. This time, however, Bryant linebacker Josh Vocque, who led the team with nine tackles, shot a gap and blocked it. Hodges recovered at the Hall 17.
Mask threw to Holland for 12 yards then Isbell dashed in from 5 yards out for his fourth TD. Senior Tyler Henderson kicked the extra point and it was 28-0.
Hall drove to the Bryant 34 but, on a fourth-and-10, Vocque and sophomore defensive end Nathan Probst sacked Winston and the Hornets took over.
Kellum took over at running back and with his quickness and fresh legs, reeled off runs of 11 and 20 yards during a drive to the Hall 12 where, with 4:15 left in the game, Henderson booted his first varsity field goal from 30 yards out to set the final score.
The Hornets were set to return to action against one of the three teams ahead of them in the league standings, Little Rock Parkview, on Friday, Oct. 21, at Scott Field.