Mustangs end long drought against Benton with 36-6 win
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
BENTON — For awhile, Thursday’s renewal of the rivalry between the Bryant Junior High Mustangs and the Benton Junior High Warriors looked alarmingly like many of the previous 18 meetings, just like most of the last nine. In each of those last nine and 15 of the previous 18, the Warriors had prevailed, most often with a solid ground game and tough defense.
But this year was supposed to be different. Benton was struggling, winless on the season while Bryant came in with a sparkling 6-1-1 mark.
Of course, as most know, in rivalries such as this, records don’t often mean much and, on top of that, the Mustangs were coming off a bitterly disappointing tie against the Sheridan Stingers that cost them a shot at the championship of the South Division of the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference. A letdown would’ve been understandable, except that this was Benton they were playing.
So, there was plenty of concern when the Warriors recovered a game-opening onside kick at midfield and methodically drove 50 yards in 12 plays for a score. And even more when, on the Mustangs’ first offensive play of the game (their only one of the first quarter), Benton forced a fumble that the Warriors’ Nick Mitchell recovered at the Mustangs’ 45. And with each yard the Warriors picked up toward another score after that turnover, the tension continued to heighten as visions of disappointments past came to mind.
The Warriors reached the Bryant 17 when, on an option, Benton running back Chris Minner took a late pitch, struggled to control it then was mashed by the Bryant defense, coughing up the football. The Mustangs’ Corey Kitchens snatched the loose ball out of the air and returned it to the 22.
After that, the Bryant defense allowed just four more first downs to the Warriors in the entire game and, though they didn’t take advantage of the fumble recovery, the Mustangs offense came to life to score 36 unanswered points for a 36-6 victory to end the nine-year drought against the Warriors.
The win gave the Mustangs a 7-1-1 mark for the regular season and 4-1-1 in South Division play, good for second. They were set to wind up the year with a playoff against Searcy, the second-place team from the North Division, on Tuesday, Oct. 31 (see related story).
Against Benton, once the offense got going, the passing tandem of quarterback Scott Peeler and wide receiver Zach Cardinal continued to be deadly. Peeler, who completed 10 of 14 passes for 211 yards, threw for four touchdowns and ran for another, hit Cardinal with six times for 185 yards and three of those touchdowns. In the nine games thus far this season, Peeler and Cardinal have connected on 11 touchdowns. Peeler, who has passed for 1,253 yards, has teamed up with Cardinal 39 times for 745 of those yards.
The first two Peeler-Cardinal TD connections proved most devastating for Benton. Prior to the first, the Mustangs had reached the Benton 29 but had a holding penalty push them back to the 46 with less than three minutes left in the half and Benton still leading 6-0.
Cardinal ran an out pattern on first-and-21 at the 46 and it was well covered by the Benton cornerback and fell incomplete. Actually, it was so well covered that, on the very next play, Cardinal faked that route then turned it upfield on an out-and-up pattern. And it burned the Warriors’ secondary. Peeler’s pass was caught in stride by Cardinal and went for a 46-yard touchdown that tied the game.
Todd Bryan kicked the extra point and the Mustangs had the lead for good.
Benton’s next possession featured a 26-yard pass from quarterback Justin Ray to wideout Joshua Curtis that reached the Bryant 36. A play later, however, a holding penalty pushed the Warriors back. Bryant’s Phillip Cottingham knocked down a deep pass at the goal line to set up a third-and-21 for the Warriors who tried to get a screen pass set up to running back Jake Morgan. But Ray was hurried by a furious Mustangs’ rush. He got the pass away but Morgan was blasted by John Dunaway and couldn’t hold the pass, forcing a punting situation.
But the Warriors faked the punt. Kicker Thomas Griffin pulled up to attempt a pass only to have his arm hit by Bryant’s Scotty Lawrence. The pass fluttered out well short of its target and the Mustangs took over with :43 left in the half.
That was plenty of time, as it turned out. The Warriors struggled to cover Cardinal. After a high pass fell incomplete on first down, Peeler found his favorite receiver for a 22-yard gain. On the next play, Cardinal split out near the sideline in front of the Bryant bench, sprinted straight up the sideline and out-jumped Benton’s Josh Hendricks for Peeler’s pass at the 5, made the catch and strolled into the end zone with :22 left in the half.
Bryan kicked it to 14-6 and the Mustangs were on their way.
To start the second half, the Mustangs’ Bo Lee nearly broke the kickoff. As it was, he got it back to near midfield. Still, a holding penalty had them 46 yards away from paydirt. On a third-and-20, however, Peeler and Cardinal did it again. The touchdown and Bryan’s extra point made it 21-6.
Benton had an eight-yard run by Ray negated by a holding penalty on its first play of the half. Ray and Curtis then teamed up on a 20-yard pass play that left the Warriors just a yard short of a first. But, on second down, Bryant tackle Jesse Nordman held off a blocker with one hand, pushing his way into the backfield, and tackled Morgan with the other for a loss. A third-down pass fell incomplete and the Warriors were forced to punt.
A 21-yard return by Cardinal got the Mustangs out of a hole and out to their own 48. An 18-yard pass from Peeler to Cardinal, a 20-yard scramble by Peeler and a 10-yard run by Lee set up Peeler’s two-yard plunge for another touchdown.
The Mustangs, who always fake the swinging gate on their extra point attempts, ran a play off of it this time and Peeler, who normally holds for the kicks, passed to Cottingham for a two-point conversion and a 29-6 lead.
An interception by Kitchens set up the Mustangs last TD. Fullback Brandon Spurr, who rushed for a game-high 90 yards on nine carries, contributed runs of 14 and 27 yards to the drive that ended with a 4-yard pass from Peeler to Lawrence with 7:13 still left in the game.
After the Warriors went three and out, Bryant coach Scott Neathery began clearing his bench and behind the running of Spurr, Chris Drye and Bryan, along with a pass from Bryan Griffith to Korey Hunter, the Mustangs drove to the 4 as the game came to an end.