Hornets ‘find a way’ past Cabot, 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
CABOT — The Bryant Hornets will play for a conference championship.
With a hard-fought 7-0 win over the Cabot Panthers on Friday, Oct. 20, the Hornets, 7-1 overall and 5-0 in league play, assured themselves of a shot. If they defeat North Little Rock in their final regular-season home game on Friday, Oct. 27, they will play the Little Rock Central Tigers on Thursday, Nov. 2, for the outright title in the 7A-Central Conference.
Of course, the Hornets, picked to finish sixth in the league in a coaches’ preseason poll published in Hooten’s Arkansas Football, would like nothing better than to win out but, even if they slip up against North Little Rock, they could still grab a share of the title with a win at Central.
Beating Cabot was no easy task. The Panthers, playing on their artificial surface, slickened by rain, with their jumbo-tron video scoreboard, were desperate for a win to keep their hopes of post-season play alive. They were physical and aggressive in their grind it out offense and mixing it up on defense to keep the Hornets’ guessing.
But Bryant found a way.
“I’m happy we came away with a victory,” declared Hornets head coach Paul Calley. “The mark of a champion is finding a way to win.”
Ironically, the Hornets offense wound up out-ball-controlling Cabot’s ball-control attack. Bryant possessed the ball on offense for nearly 26 minutes to 22 for Cabot. The Hornets defense limited the vaunted Panther running game to just 90 yards. Cabot was only able to cross midfield once and got no closer to scoring than the Hornets’ 41.
Despite the ball control by the Hornets’ offense, however, they were only able to finish off one drive with a score. They drove into Cabot territory five other times including the final possession which ended with quarterback Matt Schrader taking a knee at the Panthers’ 39.
“We moved the ball but we get down there in the red zone and start making mistakes,” Calley acknowledged. “We can’t do that next week. We can’t afford any mistakes like that. The field was a little slick. Some of it was we slipped and fell but then we took ourselves out of field goal range at least twice. And that’s my fault. That won’t happen anymore.
“It’s just frustrating after such a good performance last week (in a win over Conway), we come back this week and just don’t get the points on the board,” he continued. “You get three more points on the board and they’re two scores down, it makes you feel a little bit better — not relaxed but you don’t feel like every decision you make, the game hinges on it. That’s the way I felt the whole second half. Every decision I made, the game was going to hinge on it and I didn’t want to do anything to beat the kids.”
The only score of the game came near the end of the first quarter but it was set up by the Hornets’ game-opening possession. With Schrader completing passes to Jake Jackson and Taylor Masters, then Aspen Trevino breaking a 32-yard run, the Hornets reached the Cabot 21. But a fumbled exchange cost six yards, setting up a second-and-16. Schrader went back to pass and the Panthers blitzed, dropping him for a 9-yard loss. A third-down pass was rushed and incomplete so the Hornets punted to create a field-position advantage.
But offensive coordinator Brooks Coatney “went to school” on that first drive regarding the Cabot tactics, figuring they planned to blitz anytime Bryant faced a second and long situation.
Sure enough, after the Hornets defense wouldn’t budge, forcing Cabot to punt back to the Hornets, the offense moved it again into scoring range. Schrader connected twice with Masters and scrambled for a 23-yard pickup. On a second-and-10 at the Cabot 27, Coatney called a running play to try to burn the blitz but Cabot had the running lane covered and Trevino was stopped for no gain. On third down, Schrader avoided the run and scrambled for 9 yards to set up a fourth-and-1 at the 18. Schrader sneaked for the first down but, a play later, the Hornets were again faced with second-and-long. Coatney called for a dump pass over the middle to try to beat the blitz this time and it came up golden. Jackson slipped into the area where the blitzing linebackers would’ve been had they been in coverage. Schrader got it to him before the rush got to him and Jackson slipped a tackle before diving into the end zone for the touchdown.
Jordan Knight added the extra point and, little did anyone know, the final score was on the board with 2:12 left in the first period.
The defenses played a large roll in that but penalties also served to thwart the offenses. Of the 15 penalties marked off in the game, only one was a defensive foul.
Cabot only managed three legitimate possessions in the first half and drew penalties on two of them.
Bryant’s third possession was hampered by the slippery conditions. On consecutive plays, Schrader faded to pass and slipped down for losses.
The Hornets got the ball back thanks to a long-yardage situation created by a penalty and the stingy Bryant defense, which forced the Panthers to do something they only liked to do to surprise someone: Pass. Corey Wade’s throw was intercepted by Knight at the Bryant 31.
Cabot managed just 52 yards of offense against the Hornets in the first half. Bryant came in using a five-man defensive front instead of the usual four with senior defensive tackle Cody Williams moved to an end opposite senior Chris Taylor, putting them in the off-tackle gaps that Cabot loved to utilize.
“It was a good team effort because the defensive line was doing a big job of tying up their offensive line, trying to free up the linebackers and the safeties to make the tackles,” noted Bryant defensive coordinator Steve Griffith.
The linebackers, sophomore Austin Humbard and junior Jared Szabad responded. Humbard wound up getting in on 13 tackles and Szabad nine.
“Humbard did a real good job of reading keys,” Griffith noted. “He and Szabad did a fine job. I was real proud of them.”
Bryant made another bid to score before the half. Behind a couple of Schrader-Masters connections and the running of senior Ben Smith, they reached the Cabot 22. On a second-and-2, however, a holding penalty wound up costing the Hornets 17 yards pushing them back to the 39. Short completions to Raylen Cantrell and Jackson got it back to the 25 where Knight was called on to try a 42-yard field goal. Though he had plenty of leg, the kick was wide to the right with 1:15 left in the half.
Cabot fumbled the second-half kickoff but return man Colin Fuller gained control and got back to the 19 where the Panthers started their most successful offensive push of the game. Mixing in a couple of pass completions, they reached the Bryant 41. But a procedure penalty pushed them back. On the next play, Williams dropped running back Vince Aguilar for a loss and, a play later, the Panthers were forced to punt.
The Hornets moved the ball just enough to give Williams room to boom a 49-yard punt that returned possession to the Panthers at their own 16 with 2:03 left in the third quarter. They inched their way to their 36 where, on a fourth-and-1, Aguilar carried to near the first down. The officials called it a first down and the chain crew moved the chains so quickly that Bryant’s call for a measurement proved fruitless resulting in an extended protest by Calley.
On the next play, however, a procedure penalty (a make-up call) cost Cabot. After the mark-off, Nathan Probst and Logan Cruse dropped Aguilar for a loss. Fuller got 2 yards back but a motion penalty pushed them back again.
On third-and-20 from their own 28, the Panthers tried to run a play in which Wade had the choice of throwing a shuffle pass or running an option. The Hornets snuffed out both choices, however, and Wade could only keep it for 4 yards, resulting in another punt.
The Hornets, in turn, drove to the Cabot 19 but a motion penalty and a sack took them out of field goal range. They turned the ball over on downs at the 29 after Masters hauled in a long fourth-down pass from Schrader just out of bounds in the end zone.
Cabot couldn’t overcome a holding penalty and punted with 3:58 left. They got it back with 3:09 left but, this time, Williams punted them back to their 7.
Wade passed 16 yards to Brandon Davis but the Panthers’ hopes were virtually dashed on the next play when Taylor and Humbard met at the quarterback, sacking him for an 11-yard loss. Three plays later, a fourth-down pass was intercepted by Trent Daniel and the Hornets ran out the clock.