Special teams lift Jr. Hornets
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
There is so much to be taught by football coaches at the junior high level, emphasis has to be placed on offense and defense — blocking and tackling, throwing and catching, reading and reacting that special teams sometimes get short shrift.
So, when a team makes the time to work a little on kicking, coverage and returns, it can become a big advantage.
And, on Thursday, Oct. 2, the Bryant Hornets freshman team proved the point. Not only did kicker Jace Denker drill his second field goal of the season but both Caleb Thomas and Jacob Powell returned punts for touchdowns in the team’s 31-16 win over the Conway Blue Junior Wampus Cats at Bryant Stadium.
The win improved the Hornets to 4-1 on the season, 1-1 in the South Division of the Central Arkansas Conference with North Little Rock due for a visit this week.
Bryant rolled to a 17-0 lead in the first half then added to that when, late in the third quarter, the defense forced a Conway punt from deep in the Cats’ own end. Thomas fielded the kick, faked a reverse handoff to Powell and sprinted 46 yards for a touchdown that, with Denker’s extra point, made it 24-0.
Conway got on the board moments later when, with Bryant starting to filter in some reserves, Kaylon Felder broke a 72-yard touchdown run. The Cats added a two-point conversion to make it 24-8.
The teams traded punts again and, this time, Powell took the kick and laced his way through the Conway coverage for a 50-yard touchdown despite a face mask penalty along they way.
Denker booted the extra point and with 4:23 left in the game, the Hornets were large and in charge, 31-8.
The Bryant defense forced a fumble that Tyler Potts recovered with 3:47 left but two plays later, the Hornets fumbled it back at the Conway 45. The Cats, aided by a face mask penalty, drove for a window-dressing score with 1:20 to go to complete the scoring.
The Hornets’ defense was dominating early. Conway’s opening possession wound up losing 4 yards including a stop for a loss of 2 by Michael Angel and Blue Smith on a third-down play. And, when the Cats dropped back to punt, a high snap sabotaged the play and the resulting incomplete pass gave Bryant possession 31 yards away from paydirt.
They reached the 18 but quarterback Dylan Cross was sacked back to the 25 and, when a third-down pass from Cross to Thomas came up short of the first down, Denker came on and drilled a 35-yard field goal to make it 3-0.
Conway didn’t do much better on offense in its second possession. Austin Dunahoo stopped fullback Hayden Strickland for a loss on second down then Angel and Omar Gulley combined to hold a third-down pass completion short of the first.
This time, Miles Stevenson was able to get his punt away but it was a short one and the Hornets took over at their own 48.
A 22-yard burst by Powell put them in position to score. They reached the 16 where, on a third-and-8, Cross found Sawyer Nichols for the 6. Denker kicked it to 10-0.
Conway finally picked up a first down on its subsequent possession and actually drove for its own 20 to the Bryant 42 with the help of a personal foul penalty. But, facing a third-and-9, the Cats tried a flea-flicker with quarterback Alex Smith tossing a lateral to running back Everett Reed who then threw a pass downfield only to have Bryant’s Johnathan Parks intercept.
On the very next play, the Hornets ran the same thing with Cross throwing the lateral to Powell who, in turn, heaved a throw on the money to Nichols behind the defense for a 65-yard touchdown that, with Denker’s PAT, made it 17-0 with 1:46 left in the half.
The Hornets were on the move again at the start of the second half with Cross completing a 12-yard pass to Powell then a 9-yard toss to Parks. They reached midfield but a pair of incompletions there including a drop on a deep pass on third down forced a punt.
Conway got its first shot of the third quarter but, after motion penalty moved the Cats back to the 14, Angel led a charge that dropped Strickland for a loss to the 9. Conway was eventually forced to punt from its own 15, setting the stage for Thomas’ return.