Mustangs stop Stingers, take 8-0 record into showdown
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
For two previous Bryant Mustangs football teams, the games against the Sheridan Stingers have been crushing disappointments.
In 2001, the Mustangs were in position to match their best record ever at 9-1 with an outside chance to still earn the championship of the South Division in the Central Arkansas Conference (and play in the conference title game against the North Division champ). But the Stingers lowered a 26-3 boom on the Mustangs to end their title hopes.
In 2000, the Mustangs needed wins over Sheridan and Benton to earn a tie with Stingers for the division crown (and a trip to the title game by virtue of the win over Sheridan). Bryant wound up ending a 10-year losing streak to the Benton Warriors but, the previous week, Sheridan played the Mustangs to a tie and went on to claim the division and conference crowns. Bryant finished 7-2-1.
So, in 2002, here were the Mustangs again, in position for a championship, undefeated on the season, going into their date with the Stingers on Thursday, Oct. 24. And the Stingers, with a win were in position to earn the title themselves.
This time, however, the Mustangs, despite four turnovers and a whopping 96 yards of penalties, turned the tables on the Stingers, ending their chances for a championship. With their fourth shutout of the season, the Mustangs improved to 8-0 with a 13-0 win.
Bryant’s last hurdle to an unbeaten regular season, a division title and a host berth in the conference championship game was to be the second-place Warriors at Benton on Halloween night. In fact, it might as well have been billed as a championship game in itself. A Benton win would put the Warriors into the title game.
(All teams in the conference play a final “playoff” game on Tuesday, Nov. 5, against the team in the opposite division that finished in the same position in the standings. South Division teams will be hosting this year.)
As usual, Sheridan featured a muscular running game that not only chewed up yardage but time. But the Mustangs’ defense limited the Stingers to a net of just 4 yards on the ground and a total offense of only 34 yards. The Mustangs have now allowed just 31 points in eight games and 12 of that came late in blowouts when defensive coordinator Terry Aycock and head coach Terry Harper were trying to get playing time for reserves.
(On the other hand, Benton has five shutouts and has allowed just 17 points in going 6-2 on the season.)
The Mustangs allowed Sheridan to make just three ventures into Bryant territory and one of those started there after the Mustangs muffed a quick kick. Another started at the Sheridan 49 after an onside kick. The Stingers were never able to get any closer to paydirt than the Bryant 26. That came on their second possession of the game when they drove from their own 33 to the Bryant 29 where, on a fourth-and-7, the Mustangs held running back John Sexton to 3 yards to take over on downs.
Even after the muffed punt gave Sheridan possession at the Bryant 47, two of the next three plays lost yardage for the Stingers. And with a penalty thrown in, they had to punt from their own 37.
Bryant then put together the first scoring drive of the night. Quarterback Anthony Mask completed 3-of-4 passes on the march all to Dustin Holland, including a 27-yard catch and run to convert a third-and-10 from the Bryant 44.
After a penalty against Bryant, Mask and Holland connected again for 17 yards to the 5, setting up Mask’s keeper for the touchdown.
Despite being moved back by another penalty, Pierce Tucker booted the extra point and Bryant led 7-0 with 1:08 left in the half.
In turn, Sheridan recovered the onside kick and, in two plays, picked up a first down (the Stingers’ last of the night), before Lance Hodges intercepted a pass from Todd Wilfong as the half ended.
A fumble and an interception cost the Mustangs on each of their first two possessions of the second half but both came in Sheridan territory. The interception, in fact, came after Bryant’s Zach Kitchens returned a punt for an apparent touchdown only to have it negated by a penalty.
But Sheridan was unable to take advantage of the Bryant miscues as the Mustangs’ defense stepped forward again.
Kitchens, who had another long punt return called back because of another penalty, set up Bryant’s second touchdown with an interception at the Bryant 45. He returned it to the Sheridan 29.
From there, Zach Kellum broke an 11-yard run. Mask then rambled to the 1 but a holding penalty pushed the Mustangs back to the 23. Mask kept for 12 and, after a penalty against Sheridan, scored his second touchdown on a 5-yard run to set the final score.
The win was punctuated by a fourth-down sack of Wilfong by Zach Sanders.