Hornets in playoffs, eye conference 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
Let’s put this in perspective:
The last time a Bryant Hornets football team qualified for the State playoffs, the seniors on the 1999 team had yet to start Kindergarten. They were 3 and 4 years old.
The last time a Bryant Hornets football team won eight games in a season, many of the parents of those seniors were just starting elementary school themselves.
In fact, since a Hornets’ team last had a winning season and qualified for the playoffs in 1985, Bryant football teams, during one stretch, took six full seasons to compile eight wins.
And these Hornets aren’t done yet.
Their 35-12 win over the Little Rock McClellan Crimson Lions Friday night was just the next step in this stunning, marvelous, magical season. The Hornets reached goal No. 1 — a playoff berth — with the victory, eliminating McClellan, the only team that had even the slightest chance to spoil the Hornets’ playoff plans. Now 8-0, these Hornets have now matched the 1965 and 1960 teams for most wins by a Bryant team in a season.
They are now set to not only become the winningest Bryant team ever, but to capture a AAAAA-South Conference championship and clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They need a win at Texarkana this week. The Razorbacks, at 4-1 in conference play, are among three teams a game behind the Hornets but the only one that Bryant has yet to conquer.
The Hornets are 5-0 in league play, matching the conference win total of the previous three Bryant teams combined.
“It feels great,” said Hornets head coach Daryl Patton concerning his team’s playoff spot. “That’s a goal that we had and we accomplished it. For us to be 8-0, the best start in the school’s history, — and I think we set a school total offense record (for a season) tonight. It was a good night.”
The Hornets compiled over 400 yards of offense despite a mid-game letdown precipitated by a scary injury to junior special teams player Matt Lewis. With Bryant leading 28-0 with just 1:35 left in the half, Lewis went down on punt coverage and remained practically motionless on his stomach for at least 20 minutes while he was attended to and an ambulance was called back to Bryant Stadium.
The measures were primarily cautionary. Lewis had felt tingling and numbness in his legs after a hit. During the long wait, concern for Lewis drained all of the excitement and intensity out of the game.
Good news came back to the stadium only after the game when it was learned that Lewis had been x-rayed and treated at the hospital, had regained feeling in his leg and he was allowed to return home.
“Everything was going good until we had a couple of injuries,” Patton noted. “And anytime you have a young man out there with no feeling in a leg like Matt had, it takes a lot out of a team. Because we’re a close-knit bunch and every one of our players felt it. They were feeling for Matt.”
The game was also marred by injuries to a pair of players in the Hornets’ starting secondary. Bobby Winn suffered a broken arm (during a kickoff coverage situation) and Jesse Jones injured his foot. Winn will be lost for the season, apparently. Jones was cleared to play on Tuesday and will start despite a stress fracture on top of his foot.
Though the Hornets built a 28-0 lead in the first half, initially, it looked like McClellan might repeat the performance that Camden Fairview came up with against the Hornets the previous week. (Fairview took Bryant to overtime before losing.)
Led by elusive quarterback Terrell Hammond, the Lions took the opening kickoff and drove to the Bryant 28. And Hammond completed a fourth-down pass to the 2 only to have it negated by penalty. A second fourth-down try was foiled by the Hornets who took over at the 25.
“They’re a talented team,” Patton noted. “(Hammond) is probably one of the best quarterbacks we’ve seen. He’s dangerous. He can throw it and when you think you’ve got him, you don’t.
“Our defense, we bent a little bit but we didn’t break,” he added. “I thought they bowed up on them and stopped them, gave the offense a little bit of momentum.”
The offense produced too. In 12 plays, the Hornets drove to paydirt. They converted an early third down with a 2-yard run by Matt White then Luke Brown contributed runs of 12 and 10 yards. Quarterback Derik McCoy completed three passes in the drive including a 15-yarder to White, who made a splendid tumbling catch, for the touchdown.
Nick Harbert’s extra point made it 7-0.
McClellan’s next possession was spoiled when Bryant defensive end Justin Keen, a senior making his first start in place of an injured Aaron Mears, sacked Hammond for a loss of 11 yards. It was the first of nine sacks the Hornets defense came up with during the game.
A short punt gave the Hornets field position at the McClellan 43. Patton reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out a play that had worked for a big touchdown that was called back due to a phantom penalty in a game against Pine Bluff earlier this season. McCoy, feigning confusion, headed toward the sideline as the ball was snapped to Matt Brown in the tailback position. McCoy turned upfield uncovered by the Lions and Brown threw to him. The play picked up 18 yards.
A play later, McCoy went deep to Michael Wallace who made a spectacular leaping catch at the 2. From there, Luke Brown scored the first of his three touchdowns in the game.
Luke Brown finished with 134 yards on 20 carries.
McClellan’s subsequent drive netted one yard and another short punt gave the offense good field position again at the McClellan 44.
This time, it took eight plays to get to the end zone. The big play was a 26-yard run by White to the 15. Luke Brown eventually scored from the 1.
A 32-yard run by Trey Sims helped McClellan reach Bryant territory on its subsequent series. But the Lions were again forced to punt. The Hornets were kicked back to their own 8.
Unfazed, they put together a nifty 92-yard drive in just seven plays. McCoy hit all four of his passes and Luke Brown contributed a 16-yard run. The touchdown came on a 15-yard completion from McCoy to Matt Brown. It was one of four receptions in the game for Matt Brown making him the career leader in pass receptions for the Hornets.
The Hornet defense responded with its best series, dropping Hammond for losses on three straight plays. Keen got a sack on first down then Andy Summers and Michael McClellan converged for another loss. On third down, Keen broke through for an eight-yard sack.
The teams exchanged punts and, on Bryant’s kick, Lewis was injured.
“I thought we did a good job of putting points on the board in a hurry there in the first quarter and early in the second,” Patton related. “We had the momentum on our side. Then when Matt got hurt everything kind of stopped. We were concerned about Matt. We gave up a touchdown right before half and the momentum got back on McClellan’s side.”
Hammond passed to Keon McDuffie for the score with just :10.9 left to play in the half.
“The second half, we just never got in sync,” Patton said. “I thought the offensive line did not fire off in the third quarter. I thought our quarterback, backs and receivers didn’t run as hard. But our defense did a pretty good job. We had some big plays defensively.”
Near the end of the scoreless third quarter, McClellan took over on downs at its own 33 and put together another scoring drive. Hammond kept on a 3-yard touchdown run to make it 28-12 with 7:32 left to play.
Hammond tried to get to the corner on a keeper for a two-point conversion but the Hornets drove him out of bounds short of the goal line.
In turn, the Bryant offense got back in gear, sparked by Luke Brown’s tenacious 45-yard run. McCoy passed 20 yards to Matt Brown, who made a splendid catch at the 1, to set up Luke Brown’s third TD.
“In the fourth quarter, offensively, we started getting back into the rhythm a little bit,” Patton mentioned.
Afterwards, the coach reflected on his team’s accomplishments so far this season, saying, “I tell you what, we’ve not had many victories here at Bryant in the past and to be 8-0, we’re tickled to death — a one-point win, a two-point win, it doesn’t matter. A win’s a win and to win a game to clinch a playoff berth and to put us in a position to win a conference championship, we’re ecstatic about it.”