Hornets find their way to first conference 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
It’d almost be easier to tell about what didn’t happen in Friday night’s Bryant Hornets-Camden Fairview Cardinals football game.
Where to begin?
Perhaps where every football game begins: the offensive line.
Bryant’s young group has had its share of troubles over the last few weeks. As is so often the case, the offensive line gets little notice except when something bad happens (holding penalties, sacks, etc.). So, as the Hornets struggled through 14 consecutive quarters without a touchdown including two shutout losses, the line drew its share of the criticism.
But, facing a must-win situation Friday against Fairview, center Joe Gould, guards Brad Roberts, Josh Workman and Michael McClellan, tackles Daniel Roberts, Joey Hudman and Jason Gentry and, sometimes, tight end Patrick Defoe stepped it up as the Hornets erupted for 564 yards of total offense in a wild 42-39 victory at Bryant Stadium.
With that offensive line along with blocking back Aaron Mears clearing the way, Hornets sophomore Luke Brown, moved to fullback in place of injured senior Jacky Brown (no relation), plowed for 190 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries. He came into the game with 31 yards on nine carries for the season. (Brown also caught four passes for 63 yards to give him a total offense of 253 yards.)
With that offensive line’s protection, senior quarterback Tadd Farmer completed 23-of-49 passes for 385 yards and two scores. Tanner Francis, who came into the game with the most receptions in the state with 38, hauled in nine more passes for 142 yards and one of those TDs. Billy Landers latched onto 6 passes for 115 yards and the other touchdown.
Granted, Camden Fairview put up some big offensive numbers, too. Quarterback Darell Atkins completed 14-of-18 passes for 197 yards but the Cardinals kept pace with a pair of special teams touchdowns — a blocked punt recovered and run in for a score and a kickoff return for a TD — plus an amazing defensive touchdown. The latter of those came with Bryant on the verge of taking a 14-0 lead. Luke Brown slashed to the 1 yard line, fumbled into the end zone where Fairview’s Eric Hickman picked up the football with hardly a notice from anyone else on the field and sprinted 101 yards for a TD that tied the game.
It was that kind of night.
In fact, it went down to the last minute or so. Trailing by 3, Fairview, in its two-minute offense, had driven from its own 20 to the Bryant 46. After a timeout with 1:22 left, Atkins completed a pass in the right flat to Byron Harris. With just one timeout left, Harris tried to head to the sideline to get out of bounds and stop the clock. But while doing so, Harris was confronted by a pair of Hornets, one of whom — Defoe — reached in and snatched the ball out of his arms before everyone tumbled out of bounds.
That theft secured the victory for the Hornets who ran out the final 1:14, snapping a three-game skid and improving their overall record to 3-4, 1-3 in the AAAAA-South Conference going into their final road game of the season this Friday at Little Rock McClellan.
Despite the fact that the two teams eventually punched up 81 points and 923 yards of offense, the opening quarter was scoreless. Bryant did, however, begin the first scoring drive with 2:52 left in the period. It turned into a 12-play march covering 81 yards. Farmer hit 5-of-7 passes along the way including a couple of clutch third-down connections. The first was an 18-yard strike to Francis to convert a third-and-6 at the Hornet 34. The second, on the last play of the first quarter, covered 15 yards to Landers on a third-and-6 at the Fairview 44.
Connections to Francis then Matt Brown got the Hornets to the 10 and, from there, Luke Brown and the line took over. He eventually scored from the 6.
Nick Harbert, who would provide a pair of field goals later, kicked the PAT to make it 7-0.
And the Hornets got a break on the ensuing kickoff. Josh Ault’s line-drive kick ricocheted off one of the Fairview blockers and Luke Brown recovered at the Bryant 48. The Hornets drove to the Fairview 21 but stalled and turned the ball over on downs.
On the very next play, though, Atkins coughed up the football. Bryant cornerback Brandon Fitts scooped it up and reached the Fairview 5 before getting hauled down.
A play later, fortunes reversed again as Luke Brown fumbled into the end zone and Hickman took it the other way to tie it.
Unfazed, the Hornets drove once again and put the finishing touches on a go-ahead drive when Farmer hit Francis over the middle and the senior receiver split the defense for a 45-yard catch-and-run.
The Hornets worked the old swinging gate play on the extra point and Matt Brown ran for a two-point conversion to make it 15-7.
Back came Fairview, though, with a 66-yard touchdown drive on which Atkins hit 5-of-5 passes, the last of which covered 11 yards to Tom Crowder to get the Cards within 7 yards of paydirt. Darnell Goodwin, a play later, swept right end and reached the goal line. He fumbled into the end zone and teammate Courtland Walker recovered for the touchdown.
The Cardinals tried to tie with with a two-point conversion but Goodwin, after catching a swing pass from Atkins, was stopped short of the goal line and Bryant retained a 15-13 edge.
And it was the Hornets’ turn to score. Starting with just 2:12 left in the half, Bryant drove from its own 29 to the Fairview 11. A 20-yard strike from Farmer to Francis — the third completion of the possession — highlighted the march, getting the Hornets to the 11. But three incompletions from there left them with a fourth-and-10 with :25 left in the half. Harbert came on and blasted a 28-yard field goal to make it 18-13 at the half.
The scoring frenzy escalated in the third quarter. The Hornets got the first stab on offense and opened with a 24-yard pass from Farmer to Derek Carnell. A 10-yard run by Luke Brown converted a third-and-3 at midfield then the Hornets benefited from a third-down interference penalty against Fairview moments later.
Farmer followed with a swing pass to Luke Brown out of the backfield. Brown turned the corner and cruised 27 yards to the 3, setting up his second touchdown on the very next play. Harbert’s PAT made it 25-13.
And Fairview took its turn, driving 63 yards in eight plays for an answering score. Atkins was again on target with all three of his passes along the way, including a 10-yarder to Harris after Atkins had fumbled the snap. That play got the Cardinals to the 14 and, on the next play, Courtney Nettles ran for the TD.
Jeff Weaver’s extra-point closed the gap to 25-20.
It didn’t stay that way long. From the Hornet 39, Farmer threw a short pass to Landers that Fairview’s Van Thomas played tightly, dropping Landers for a 2-yard loss. Noting the coverage, the Hornets took advantage on the next play. Landers started on a short pattern, but broke it off and headed up the sideline. Thomas took the bait, bit on Landers first move and was nowhere near the Bryant receiver when Farmer threw down the sideline. The play covered 63 yards and, with Harbert’s PAT, increased Bryant’s lead to 32-20.
Likewise, however, Fairview wasted little time in responding. In four plays, capped by Atkins’ 42-yard pass to Crowder, the Cardinals covered 64 yards for another score. The touchdown came a play after Defoe nearly intercepted an Atkins pass attempt. The resulting incompletion snapped a string of eight straight completions by Atkins.
In turn, the Hornets’ offense was finally thwarted for a moment. They were unable to pick up a first down and were forced to punt for the first time in the game. But Fairview’s massive Maci Davis, a major college prospect at 6-2, 286, bulldozed through the Hornets’ protection and blocked Derek McCoy’s kick. The ball ricocheted to the Bryant 10 where Weaver scooped it up and scored.
Suddenly, Fairview had its first lead of the game 33-32.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Cardinals for celebrating the score, plus a procedure penalty on the extra-point attempt (which had already been pushed back to the 18) forced Fairview to attempt the PAT from the 23. They faked the kick but a pass by Crowder, the holder, fell incomplete so the margin remained 1-point.
What followed proved to be the wackiest play of a game full of them. Luke Brown fielded the kickoff at the 13 and made a strong return across the Bryant 40. But the ball squirted loose as he struggled for extra yardage. Goodwin picked up the fumble and returned it for an apparent Fairview touchdown.
But all the while, a penalty flag, thrown as Weaver kicked the ball off, rested on the field at the Fairview 40. Weaver, himself, had been flagged for failure to use proper equipment. Translated, it meant, as it turned out, he had failed to put his mouthpiece in his mouth — a safety rule and a 5-yard penalty.
It negated the play. Fairview had to re-kick and, this time, Bryant held onto the ball as Francis returned to the 39. A play later, Luke Brown sliced off right tackle and sprinted 54 yards for a touchdown to put Bryant back ahead to stay.
Of course, the Hornets weren’t out of woods yet with a full quarter and a minute left to play. Fairview looked sure to be on the comeback trail when Nettles busted a 31-yard run on the first play of the next possession. But that’s when the Bryant defense stepped up. Three plays from the Bryant 39 netted nothing for Fairview and, on the first play of the fourth period, Weaver had to punt.
In response, the Hornets drove from their own 20 to the Fairview 13 in nine plays. Farmer completed 3-of-5 passes including a 27-yarder to Landers to the 13. But, three passes from there went incomplete and Harbert was called upon again. And, again, he came through with a 30-yard field goal to make it a 42-33 lead with 8:05 to play.
Fairview, at that point, needed two scores to win. And the Cards got one of them right away. After grounding almost all of their kicks to that point in the game, the Hornets’ staff, encouraged by the 9-point lead and a suddenly brisk wind at their backs, decided to kick away figuring that, with the wind, Ault could put the ball in the end zone for a touchback.
The kick reached the 10 where the speedy Goodwin claimed it and raced 90 yards for a touchdown.
Now, along the way, Weaver, the Fairview kicker, had been injured. So, the Cardinals had to turn to Davis for their extra-point attempt. His left-footed boot sailed wide right and Fairview was left trailing 42-39 with 7:49 left to play.
The Hornets, in turn, worked on the clock as the offensive line and Luke Brown pounded at the Cardinals weary defense. A 12-yard run by Brown got the Hornets to their 49. Two plays later, Farmer passed short to Matt Brown, who evaded a pair of Fairview tacklers and picked up 18 yards for a new set of downs.
After an incompletion, Luke Brown barreled for 14 yards to the 22. On the next play, however, a holding penalty pushed the Hornets back and they were unable to overcome that. On fourth-and-13 at the 25, Ault came on to try a 42-yard field goal. He had enough leg, but the kick was wide left.
That set up Fairview’s final ill-fated drive.