Hornets subdue Cats, earn title shot
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
The North Little Rock Charging Wildcats changed their whole offensive approach for their game against the Bryant Hornets on Friday, Oct. 27. It was their last hope of perhaps nabbing a share of the 7A-Central Conference championship and a home game in the first round of the Class 7A State playoffs.
And Bryant defensive coordinator Steve Griffith admitted it surprised him and his fellow coaches to see the Wildcats deploy in a power I or the wing-T with quarterback-turned-linebacker Chea Peterman back at quarterback. It was interesting, too, that the Wildcats were using an offense of power running and option that, just the week before, Bryant had shut down at Cabot (where power running, misdirection and the option are standard).
But it worked for North Little Rock. For a quarter.
The Wildcats scored their lone touchdown and piled up 119 yards of offense in the first quarter then were shut out the rest of the game, managing a net of just 56 yards afterwards. Bryant scored 26 unanswered points to remain unbeaten in 7A-Central Conference play and 8-1 overall this season. The 26-6 win set up a championship showdown between the Hornets and the unbeaten Little Rock Central Tigers at Quigley Stadium on Thursday, Nov. 2.
Bryant is already assured of hosting a first round game in the first year of the State playoffs in the new power-packed 7A classification that includes the largest 16 schools in the state. With a win over Central, they could host every playoff game they play up to the championship which will be, as always, at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
Not bad for a team that the other coaches in the 7A-Central picked to finish sixth in the preseason poll listed in Hooton’s Arkansas Football magazine. Not bad for a team with just a handful of starters returning from the pervious season. Not bad for a team that many thought could well be better than the season before but, because of the rugged schedule including the imposing competition in the new conference, might not muster as good a record.
Even head coach Paul Calley admitted if he’d been told at the beginning of the season that his team would be in this position, “I would’ve said, ‘Probably not.’
“Just the conference that we’re in, the teams we face week in and week out,” he added following the win over North Little Rock. “It’s just a testament to these guys and the coaching staff. Unbelievable.”
Of the five teams picked to finish ahead of Bryant — in the order they were picked to finish, North Little Rock, Conway, Russellville, Central and Catholic — the Hornets have outscored the four they’ve played 101-36.
Bryant’s defense held the Charging Wildcats to just 96 yards on the ground. It’s the fifth game in a row, a rival has been unable to muster 100 yards rushing against the Hornets. Add that to two non-conference foes that couldn’t do it (El Dorado and Benton) and it’s apparent what one of the major factors in the team’s success is.
Nonetheless, North Little Rock came out determined to run it. On the opening possession, the Wildcats drove from their own 21 to the Bryant 36 without throwing a pass. But, facing a second-and-8, Peterman was stopped for no gain, bringing their first third-and-long. Peterman’s first pass, a deep one intended for speedy Bret Moncrief, was overthrown and the Cats were forced to punt.
After Bryant punted it back, the Wildcats had their best field position of the game at their own 46. Two plays later, Peterman broke an option keeper for 37 yards and the game’s first touchdown.
North Little Rock didn’t cross midfield again until the fourth quarter. By then, Bryant led 19-6.
“We just reminded people of what their angles need to be and what their responsibilities were when (North Little Rock) ran the option,” Griffith explained of the adjustments made on defense. “They had not really shown any two tight end, power-I except for a couple of times on the goal line (in previous games). They really kind of caught us off guard. It wasn’t something we worked on very much. So, we had to get on the sideline and make adjustments and make sure everyone was lined out on what they needed to do. Then it helped that they had a couple of fumbles back there.”
The fumbles were actually bad pitches by Peterman. The Hornets, behind the running of senior Dustin Seljan and quarterback Matt Schrader, drove to the North Little Rock 9 in answer to the Wildcats’ score. Jordan Knight kicked a 25-yard field goal to make it 6-3.
A nice stop by Brent Smith on the ensuing kickoff return, left North Little Rock at its own 17. A 13-yard run by Tamelle Jenkins helped them get out to the 39 to start the second quarter but that’s when the Wildcats started going backwards. Peterman’s pitch to Tim Dunn hit the ground. Though Dunn recovered, the play lost 16 yards. Peterman tried the throw on the next play and Knight intercepted, returning to the North Little Rock 35.
Thanks in part of a fourth-down pass for 11 yards from Schrader to Jeremy Jordan, the Hornets drove to the 16 only to have a pass into the end zone picked off by North Little Rock’s DeShaun Thomas.
On the first play from the 20, however, Peterman again made a bad pitch. Jenkins tracked it down but lost 14 yards and the Wildcats never recovered.
After a short punt, the Hornets drove for a go-ahead touchdown, sparked by a 31-yard catch and run by Taylor Masters on a throw down the middle by Schrader to convert a third-and-8 play. A play later, Seljan crashed in for the touchdown with 4:03 left in the half. Knight kicked it to 10-6.
Consecutive tackles for losses by defensive end Nathan Probst thwarted the Wildcats and forced another punt. Probst turned in what Griffith called his best performance of the season with three unassisted tackles, one assisted, those two tackles for losses, a sack and a pass deflection. Linebacker Jared Szabad and safety Logan Cruse were each in on nine stops each.
The Hornets got great field position again after the punt. With Schrader completing passes to Jake Jackson for 11 and 4 yards along with completions of 10 and 26 yards to Masters, Bryant reached the North Little Rock 4 where, with :03 left, Knight kicked another 25 yard field goal to make it 13-6 at the half.
The key, I felt, was field position,” Calley said. “After we got the field goal that made it 6-3, we got some big stops. We were able to get another score, we kept them backed up and the field position was big. Even though a couple of times, we didn’t score, we kept them down on their end.
“After the first two series, the defense shut them down,” he added. “With our ability to run the ball, we didn’t have to rely on the pass every time. We wanted to throw a little more on first down, try to give us a chance to run on second and third.”
The good field position continued at the start of the second half. Sophomore Kaleb Jobe called a fair catch on the short North Little Rock kickoff but was run over. The subsequent penalty allowed the Hornets to set up offensively at their own 47. A 22-yard scramble by Schrader was followed by an 18-yard rumble by soph Aspen Trevino. From the 8, Schrader kept for the touchdown with 10:49 left in the third quarter, making it 19-6 after the extra point try failed.
North Little Rock still couldn’t move the ball with Peterman. Finally, with 8:37 left in the third quarter, passer Maurice Phillips replaced him. Phillips completed his first three passes to account for the Wildcats’ first first down since Peterman’s touchdown run but the drive stalled in North Little Rock territory.
The teams traded punts until, aided by a pair of major penalties against the Hornets, North Little Rock drove to the Bryant 28. A fourth-down play from there however, resulted in an incomplete pass and the Hornets took over with 8:30 left to play. A 24-yard pass from Schrader to Jordan set up Trevino’s 26-yard touchdown run which burned a North Little Rock blitz. With Austin Bradley’s extra point, the final score was set with 6:08 left in the game.
The Wildcats got the ball twice more but the Bryant secondary started teeing off on their receivers. The first possession stalled after four consecutive incompletions from midfield. The last one ended when the game did with Phillips scrambling futily to the Bryant 37.