Hornets capture conference crown
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
TEXARKANA — “For years around here, (coaches) have preached, ‘One heartbeat,’” reflected Bryant Hornets senior cornerback Josh Baumbeck before his team traveled to Texarkana in quest of a conference championship, “and it’s never happened. But this year, it’s finally come together.”
Chalk up a few more things that have never happened to Bryant football teams that this year’s Hornets have accomplished.
Call them, “The winningest team in Bryant history,” (and still going). Call them, “Champions.”
What a way to mark the program’s 50th anniversary!
Bryant improved to 9-0 Friday, clinched at least a share of the AAAAA-South Conference championship, and sewed up the top seed in the Class AAAAA State Playoffs with home-field advantage throughout, by finding a way to win, 17-14, over an inspired Texarkana Razorbacks team Friday night at Razorback Stadium.
Time and again this season, these Hornets have distinguished themselves unlike any Bryant team in years. And, according to head coach Darryl Patton, they did it once again Friday.
“In the past, Bryant teams would’ve found a way to lose that (game),” he stated outside the jubilant Hornets’ dressing room. “We’ve got a big heart on this team and when adversity strikes, which it will in every ballgame, our kids are cool, calm and collected. And when it strikes, we find a way to overcome it.
“(Against Texarkana), we could’ve quit three or four times,” Patton said. “They had us on the ropes, they were moving it but we found a way to stop them, force a field goal and the good Lord was on our side tonight. We’re tickled to death.”
The field goal attempt, with 1:22 left to play, came from 38 yards out after a frantic, last-ditch drive by the Razorbacks from their own 17 to the Bryant 23. A pair of incomplete passes by Texarkana’s Brian Barr — the second, knocked down by Bryant sophomore safety Shea Rentch — resulted in a third and 10. A run by fullback Henry Black was stopped after a gain of just 2 and Texarkana had to settle for the 3-point attempt in hopes of a tie.
After a Bryant timeout, Garrett Morgan got plenty of leg into the kick but it was just wide of the left upright, no good.
Moments later, the Hornets, and a crowd of fans that out-numbered the Texarkana faithful on hand, celebrated their landmark victory.
Once again, senior kicker Josh Ault provided the winning edge for Bryant. His 25-yard field goal with 9:43 left in the game, snapped a 14-14 tie.
The Hornets appeared to have the game in hand when Texarkana’s series following Ault’s field goal stalled at the Bryant 42. On a fourth-and-3, the Razorbacks faked a punt with up-back Alex Peoples, the team’s back-up quarterback, took the snap and tried to get to the corner around left end. But the Hornets gang-tackled Peoples for a loss and took over with 7:04 left to play.
The offense, paced by dominating line play and the running of fullback Luke Brown, ate up three minutes driving to the Texarkana 22. Brown, who rushed for 131 yards on 20 carries, broke a 19-yarder to get the drive going.
But, on a third-and-12 at the 22, a direct snap to Brown went awry. Brown batted it forward in an attempt to control it, but Texarkana linebacker Jeremy Willis recovered at the 17 with 4:05 to go.
The Hornets defense forced Texarkana into a fourth-down situation at its own 31 but Barr completed a 10-yard pass to Kenneth Threats to keep the march alive.
Those two combined again, moments later, to convert a third-and-10 at the 41. Barr then threw a screen pass to Black who rumbled to the Bryant 23 to set up the final, nail-biting sequence of events.
It came down to that, in part, because the Hornets, uncharacteristically, failed to capitalize on all of their scoring opportunities in the game. Nine times, Bryant drove into Texarkana territory and six times the Hornets came up empty.
“Tonight was by far the worst game I’ve called,” stated Patton, who signals in each play to quarterback Derik McCoy. “Coach (Paul) Calley was up there (in the pressbox) telling me running plays that would work and I was kind of hard-headed. I didn’t do a real good job.”
Still, the Hornets, by all accounts the most prolific offense in school history, piled up 359 yards of offense. McCoy completed 17-of-30 passes for 214 yards. Matt Brown caught eight passes for 107 yards to lead six different Hornets receivers.
Bryant’s first scoring opportunity came when strong safety Jesse Jones recovered a Texarkana fumble on the second play of the game at the Bryant 37.
The Hornets drove to the 17 behind Luke Brown’s running and a pair of passes by McCoy — one of which, they worked for the old hook-and-ladder play in which Matt Brown made the catch on a five-yard hitch and lateraled to Matt White who picked up 11 more yards to the 19.
Luke Brown picked up 2 yards but then back-to-back incompletions forced the Hornets to settle for a field goal attempt from 34 yards out. Nick Harbert’s boot was wide left and the Hornets came up empty.
Moments later, however, Texarkana fumbled the ball away again. This time, junior defensive tackle Shawn Reynolds recovered at the Hogs’ 29.
McCoy completed an 11-yard pass to Jonathan Jameson to convert a third-down then Luke Brown wove his way for 14 yards to the 2, setting up White’s touchdown plunge.
Harbert kicked it to 7-0.
In turn, Texarkana drove to the Bryant 27 before running out of downs. Barr was stopped short of the first down on a fourth-down keeper with :22 left in the opening quarter.
The Hornets came back with a drive to the Texarkana 24 and had a pass completion to the 8, but an offensive pass interference call negated the play and, moments later, Ault came on to punt from the Texarkana 39.
After forcing a Texarkana punt, the Hornets drove from their own 21 to the Texarkana 48 where they faced a fourth-and-2. They tried a flanker reverse — a play that has worked quite well for them all season — only to have Texarkana defensive end Darrius Norman spoil it by dropping Jameson for a loss.
“That was a bone-headed call,” Patton chided himself. “I had confidence in our team, though. I knew that if we missed, I thought our defense could stop them. But it wasn’t real smart on my part at all.”
A play later, the Razorbacks Willie Whitmore (12 carries, 139 yards) broke a 32-yard run that set up a tying touchdown. Texarkana still had to convert a fourth-and-1 at the 4, but Black picked up the first down and, a play later, Whitmore scored from the 1 with :46 left in the half.
Bryant, behind 16-yard completions from McCoy to Matt Brown then White, once again got into scoring position before the half was over. With :04 left, Ault came on to attempt a 47-yard field goal, but it was wide right.
But the Hornets would take the lead early in the third quarter. They took the second-half kickoff and put together a 71-yard, eight-play drive aided by a 15-yard personal foul penalty. Luke Brown’s 18-yard run to the 6 set up the score. A play later, he took it in from the 3.
Harbert kicked it to 14-7.
Texarkana answered with a drive into Bryant territory that ended when the Black, at the end of a 22-yard rumble, had the ball ripped out of his arms and recovered by Baumbeck at the Hornet 25.
Luke Brown ripped a 25-yard run and, a play later, it looked like McCoy hit Michael Wallace deep down the left sideline. But the ball was stripped free and out of bounds by Threats.
The Hornets reached the Texarkana 46 but chose, this time, to punt on fourth-and-short. Ault kicked the Hogs back to the 9.
And Texarkana struggled to get out of the hole until Barr converted a third-and-12 with a pass to Joe Williams that just barely was enough. Williams broke an option pitch for 18 yards and, a play later, Barr threw a lateral to Whitmore who had split wide to the left along with two of his teammates in a stacked receiver formation. Whitmore split two Bryant defenders and raced down the sideline for a 61-yard touchdown play.
Morgan tied it with 1:14 left.
But Bryant responded with their championship drive to the decisive field goal. A 17-yard pass from McCoy to Wallace proved key early in the march, converted a third-and-8 at the Bryant 30.
A play later, McCoy and Matt Brown teamed up on an 18-yard reception then, on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Hornets set up a middle screen to Luke Brown that broke for 23 yards to the 13.
The Texarkana defense, which was apparently keying on White all night, stopped him for a gain of 2 then Luke Brown lost a yard. A short pass to Luke Brown got the ball back to the 8, setting up Ault’s field goal.
“Our kids did a great job of competing and fighting through it,” Patton stated. “That’s what championship teams do.”
Challenges remain, of course. There’s the playoffs in two weeks. And before that, these Hornets have a chance to finish the regular season unbeaten — something no Bryant team has ever done. To do that, they’ll have to, once again, do something few Bryant teams have accomplished. They have to beat the Benton Panthers.