Freshmen complete unbeaten season
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
GREENBRIER — The Greenbrier Junior Panthers didn’t know it yet but when Bryant Hornets freshman defensive tackle Jordan Murdock knifed through to drop running back Colt Talley for a loss of 3 on a third-and-1 at the Bryant 48, their chances for a Central Arkansas Junior High Conference championship and a 10-0 season were all but over.
Murdock and the Bryant defense had figured out the Panthers’ offense and, from that point on, dominated as they had all season. Greenbrier picked up 29 yards of offense on that opening possession to that point. The rest of the game, they would manage a net of just 31 more. Take away an 11-yard run on a fake punt and a 24-yard pass play on a desperation drive in the second half and the Panthers were in negative numbers for the game.
“Nobody’s stopped them like that all year,” noted Bryant head coach Jason Hay.
The Hornets rolled to a 20-0 lead and captured their program’s first CAJHC championship, 20-6, on Tuesday, Oct. 20.
In fact, it’s the first championship of any kind for the freshman program at Bryant since 1985, before these players were even born. And their 9-0-1 record is the first unbeaten campaign since 1984, matching the school record for most wins in a season.
Oh, and that defense: When the first team gave up the Greenbrier touchdown late in the game after a long punt return, it was just the third they’d given up and spoiled their hopes of a fifth shutout in 10 games. As a unit, the Hornets set a new school standard by allowing just 47 points all season. (The 2002 team allowed 59.) Bryant outscored its opponents by an incredible 260-14 over the first three quarters combined.
In shutting down Greenbrier’s winged-T offense that had been so formidable all season, the Hornets set another team mark by allowed just 671 yards rushing all season, breaking the 2005 mark of 816.
“All year,” acknowledged Hay. “They shut it down the first game all the way to the last, start to finish. They did a good job. I’m just so proud of these kids. It’s been a good year.
“Business as usual,” he said of the win. “We’ve been playing like it’s a conference championship every week. I knew we had a chance before the season ever started. There were some doubts after the first game but the guys showed some class and they’ve done something that hasn’t been done before. In a town like ours and a school like ours, I’m glad we could bring that back for everybody.”
The only blemish on the Hornets’ record was a season-opening scoreless tie against Searcy, a result, in large part, of the fact that several of the team’s key players were away playing baseball in the Babe Ruth World Series until the week of the game.
And, though Hay would be the first to say it’s not about him and it’s all about the kids, the win salved an old wound for the coach. In 2005, his team went 9-1 with the only loss coming at Lake Hamilton at mid-season on a last-second kickoff return for a touchdown after the Hornets had taken the lead. He blamed himself, thinking, in hindsight, he should’ve instructed his kicker to squib the kickoff.
“I’ll be honest with you, it’s been two years,” he allowed. “We were one play from getting (to the championship game). We’ve been close twice.”
And this time, they got it.
And they finished with class. Leading 20-6, they ran out the last 3:29 behind the running of Dylan Pritchett, who picked up 124 yards on 19 tries in the game, and an offensive line — Steven Lecamu, Murdock, Ben Seale, Billy Bearden and Justin Rauch — that was asserting its will. The Hornets marched from their own 47 to the Greenbrier 1 with time to score. But quarterback Blake Davidson took a knee instead of handing to Pritchett for a seventh straight time.
It had to be tempting, however, since Pritchett who scored earlier in the game could’ve tied the team record for touchdowns in a season with one more. As it was, he finished with 20 and matched Aspen Trevino’s mark with 130 points scored for the campaign.
It could’ve easily been a much more lopsided score. On the opening drive of the game, the Hornets reached the Greenbrier 13. After a holding penalty deleted most of Pritchett’s run to the 5, twice the Hornets had passes dropped that would’ve put them on the board.
Greenbrier’s first drive followed, picking up two of their four first downs in the game before Murdock’s big play. The Panthers faked their punt and would’ve picked up a first down but for a blocking penalty that forced a punt.
Davidson completed a 21-yard pass to Josh Hampton and, after Pritchett crashed for 17 yards, Tanner Tolbert grabbed a screen pass and rolled 37 yards for the game’s first points. Bo Stitch added the PAT and it was 7-0 with 7:01 left in the half.
Davidson was just 5 of 15 passing with dropped balls hurting his percentage but he connected for two touchdowns and 131 yards putting him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season (1,086) and giving him 15 TD passes on the season.
Greenbrier got nothing in three plays on the ensuing possession with Austin Johnson, Jordan Moore and Holden Chavis making key plays for Bryant.
After a short punt, the Hornets gave the ball up on downs at the Panthers’ 37. Greenbrier got positive yardage from workhorse Hunter Winston on first down but, on the next play, Jacob Brady dropped him for a 6-yard loss. The Panthers tried a trick play on third down and wound up losing 11 more.
In the final moments of the half, the Hornets drove to the Greenbrier 5 but, on a fourth down pass, Davidson overthrew Hampton in the end zone leaving it 7-0 at the half.
Despite the missed opportunities, there were no histrionics in the locker room for the Hornets.
“We told them we’re going to do what we do every game: Win,” Hay asserted. “That’s all there is to it. We’re going to finish. That’s what we wanted to do, finish like we started, full speed, just like we’ve done since August.”
The defense set the tone again. On three plays to start the third quarter, Greenbrier went backwards. Winston was dropped for a loss by Hunter Mayall, Moore and Johnson on first down. On second, a fade route fell incomplete with cornerback James Glasper providing blanket coverage and nearly coming up with an interception. On third, Moore wrestled Winston down for an 8-yard loss at the Greenbrier 8.
The Hornets got great field position after another short punt. From the Panthers’ 28, Davidson hit Tolbert for 13; Tolbert ran a reverse for 14 to the 1 and Pritchett powered in from there. Stitch kicked it to 14-0.
Greenbrier went three and out again and due to a bad snap, punted from its own end zone again. Bryant got the ball back at the 37 and scored on the first play. Davidson did a nice job of avoiding a blitz and hit a wide open Tolbert down the right side for the TD to make it 20-0.
Thanks to defensive plays by Matt Jones, Will Suddeth and Chris Joiner, the Panthers were soon punting again. But they went a fake and Winston got just enough for a first down at the 38. A play later, Winston caught a swing pass and raced 24 yards before being knocked out of bounds at the Bryant 38.
That was as close as the Panthers had been to the end zone and they didn’t get much closer. On a third-and-7, Jones dropped quarterback Neal Burcham for a loss then a fourth-down pass was stopped short of the first down.
In turn, the Hornets were forced to punt for the only time all night. Winston took Tolbert’s kick at the 30 and raced up the right sideline 62 yards before Tolbert ran him down at the 8.
It took three plays but the Panthers found paydirt on a determined 3-yard run by Winston with 3:30 left to play. A pass attempt for a two-point conversion failed and the final score was on the board with 3:30 left.
The win was part of a dominant performance by the teams in the South Division against their counterparts in the North. South Division teams won seven of the eight games, all on the road, with the only loss a 21-20 final, Russellville West defeating Benton.