October 17 in Bryant athletic history: 2002

Mustangs answer Conway challenge, run record to 7-0

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).



CONWAY — The unbeaten Bryant Junior High Mustangs have made it look easy most of the way this season. And they began to believe it would be that way every week, despite the warnings of their coaches to the contrary.

“The first three or four weeks, I don’t think they really believed me until we started pulling out the records of the teams we’d played,” stated head coach Terry Harper. “Those first three or four teams are struggling and every week, I say, ‘This team’s are going to be better. It’s only going to get tougher.’”

Indeed, the way the Mustangs’ schedule worked out this season, the only team they’ve played with a winning record through seven weeks is Lake Hamilton. Two more lie ahead in Sheridan (4-2-1) on Thursday, Oct. 24, and Benton (5-2) on Thursday, Oct. 31.

And, of the teams with sub-.500 records, the Mustangs faced the toughest when they took on the Conway Blue Wampus Kittens and Thompson Stadium on Thursday, Oct. 17.

Going into the game, the Mustangs had only allowed 18 points, 12 of those late in games when Harper and his assistants were trying to get in all of the reserves. But Conway Blue nearly doubled that total, scoring twice.

Fortunately, the Kittens had even more trouble stopping the Mustangs who extracted a 24-13 victory to improve to 7-0 on the season, 3-0 in the South Division of the Central Arkansas Conference.

“I think they believe me now,” Harper stated. 

Not that the Mustangs didn’t play well. 

“They played their hearts out,” said Harper. “We had a couple of breakdowns here and there but all-in-all the effort was there. We had some letdowns we haven’t been having on defense but I can’t fault their effort, their desire and their work ethic.

“We probably had our best two days of practice all year Monday and Tuesday,” the coach recalled. “They’re still motivated. Their not in any kind of lull. The last few years, we’ve had a lull about this time. They’ve stayed focused. I’ve got to settle them down during practice, and that’s a good thing. It’s not hard to motivate these kids.”

And the Mustang performed despite early injuries to running back Zach Kellum and lineman Sherief Qassas, a particular standout on defense.

“Zach got popped in the head a little bit,” Harper reported. “He was all right and came back into the game in the second half. Sherief went down early and that’s two positions. Zach Sanders was still hobbled and he plays two positions. Sherief hurt his ankle so he didn’t play much at all.

“But the guys that came in — Toshi Watada came in and filled in for Sherief well and Sanders filled in for Kellum good. Zach Kitchens and Kyle Pudinas filled in for Sanders (on defense) because we weren’t wanting to play Sanders a whole lot. And they did a good job.”

After struggling a bit offensively the previous week against Conway White, the Mustangs revved it up against Conway Blue, piling up 325 yards of offense. Quarterback Anthony Mask, coming off his toughest night (1 for 11 passing) against White, was zeroed in, completing 11 of 15 aerials for 206 yards and three touchdowns. Kellum came back after carrying the ball just two times in the first half and finished with 75 yards rushing on 11 carries, fresh off a 100-yard night against White.

The Mustangs have still never trailed in a game this season. They took the lead initially in the second quarter when Mask capped a 10-play, 79-yard drive with a 44-yard strike to Dustin Holland that converted a third-and-11 situation and featured some nifty running from the receiver.

A try for two failed.

On the Kittens’ ensuing possession, John Isabell and Pudinas dropped running back Eric Anthony for a six-yard loss and, a play later, Zach Scott sacked quarterback Carter Lance for a loss of nine.

Following a punt that Kitchens covered at the Bryant 47, Isabell hauled in a Mask pass and went 53 yards for another score to make it 12-0 with 2:53 left in the half.

Conway countered with its first touchdown drive, covering 72 yards in six plays, mostly on a 59-yard pass play from Lance to Anthony. Kitchens saved a touchdown with a tackle at the 1 and, for a while, it looked like the Mustangs might hold the Kittens out as Sanders broke through to drop Rufus Virgil for a loss.

But, after a Conway timeout with :33 left in the half, Virgil powered in for the score. The extra point attempt was blocked.

But the halftime score would not be 12-6 despite the fact that there was so little time left. Bryant’s special teams came through again making way for Isabell to return the ensuing kickoff 58 yards to the Conway 19.

After throwing a rare incompletion, Mask lofted a pass towards Isabell who was running a flag route. Isabell made a spectacular, over-the-shoulder grab, never broke stride and waltzed into the end zone with :08 left.

It was 18-6 at the half.

And the Mustangs added to that with their first possession of the second half. After forcing a Conway punt, they drove 74 yards in a 10-play drive aided by the return of Kellum. Mask and Holland combined on a 20-yard pass play to convert a third-and-10 from the 38. Later, Kellum took a shovel pass from Mask and rambled 17 yards to the 9. On the next play, Kellum ran it in to make it 24-6.

Conway answered with a touchdown on a 15-yard pass from Lance to Jeremiah Goode that converted a third-and-14 with 6:11 to play. 

The Mustangs were on their way to another touchdown with a time-munching drive that featured the running of Sanders and Kellum but at the end of a 23-yard run to the Conway 9, Kellum had the ball ripped out of his arms and Conway recovered with 2:18 to go.

But the Kittens managed just one first down. On a fourth-and-10 at their own 32, Lance was sacked by Josh Vocque ending Conway’s hopes of scoring again with :51 left.

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