Freshmen keep title hopes alive
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
With a clutch drive fit for a championship team, the Bryant Hornets freshman team kept their hopes alive for just such a feat on Thursday, Oct. 30, when they handed the first loss of the season to the Cabot South Junior Panthers, 17-14, at Bryant Stadium.
The result locked the two teams in a tie for second place in the South Division of the Central Arkansas Conference at 8-1 overall and 5-1 in the division going into the final game of the season just a game behind league-leader Lake Hamilton.
If Bryant defeats rival Benton on Tuesday, Nov. 4, and Cabot South knocks off Lake Hamilton, it would forge a three-way tie for the division crown involving Lake Hamilton, Cabot South and the Hornets.
The Hornets will also have a chance to match the 2007, 2005 and 2002 freshman teams for most wins in a season with nine if they can win over Benton. Bryant has won four in a row over their rivals.
For a few moments, it looked like Cabot would ruin Bryant’s bid for a share of the title. The Panthers scored on a 4-yard run by Matt McCollough with 3:22 left to play, erasing the Hornets’ 10-7 lead. The drive had started at the Bryant 30 moments after a Hornets’ fumble was recovered by Mason Haley.
And the Hornets’ chances for answering took an early hit when, on the first play of their subsequent possession, they were flagged for the second time in the game for offensive pass interference.
But quarterback Dylan Cross hit Caleb Thomas with an 8-yard pass then connected with Sawyer Nichols for a 27-yard chunk that not only picked up the first down but reached Cabot territory with 2:23 still to play.
A play later, a screen pass to running back Jacob Powell picked up 8 yards and when Cabot was flagged for roughing the passer, the ball was moved all the way down to the Panthers’ 22.
On the next play, Powell took a handoff from Cross and wove his way through the Cabot defense and down the sideline for a go-ahead touchdown. Jace Denker added the extra point and, with 1:48 to go, the Hornets were back in front.
On the ensuing kickoff, Denker made a bid to nail the Panthers deep in their own end as he had late in the first half but his kick rolled out of bounds at the 7 and Cabot gained possession on the infraction at the 35.
Typical of a Cabot team, the Panthers had yet to pass during the game and, on first down from the 35, they stubbornly continued to try to break a big gain on a run play. But Bryant defensive tackle Zach Garrett brought down Haley for just a 2-yard gain and, as the clock approached 1:00, the Panthers were finally forced to throw.
Quarterback Bryson Morris completed a short out pass to Ethan Brown for 7 yards to bring up a third-and-1. Morris snuck for the first down then threw another quick pass to Josh Graham for 5 yards.
A deep pass on third-and-5 at the Bryant 46 was over everyone but stopped the clock with :47.3 showing. The Hornets got some pressure on Morris on his third-down pass and it fell incomplete.
After another timeout, the Panthers kept their hopes alive with another 5-yard pass completion from Morris to Austin Samples giving them a first down at the Bryant 41 with :40 left.
The Panthers then resorted to a little trickery to try to get the big play that they had been denied by the Hornets. Morris flipped a lateral to Haley who rolled right looking to pass. Morris leaked out of the backfield down the left hash and Haley tried to throw it back to him only to have Bryant’s Omar Gulley, unfooled, there to intercept, sealing the win for the Hornets.
To start the game, the Hornets turned the tables on the Panthers, who usually eat up clock with their dead-T, double tight end ground game. Taking the opening possession from their own 34 to paydirt, the Hornets used up over five minutes of the eight-minute quarter. Early in the drive, they overcame a holding penalty that had them in a second-and-19 hole at their own 42. Cross completed a tunnel screen to Thomas that got 15 yards. The quarterback then altered his cadence as he barked out signals on the third-down play and Cabot’s defensive line jumped into the neutral zone for a five-yard offsides penalty and a first down.
Powell, who slashed his way to 99 yards on 20 carries in the contest to go with two pass receptions for 25 yards, dashed 13 yards to the 25 but lost 4 on the next snap. His 8-yard run ended with Cabot picking up a personal foul penalty that pushed the ball to the 11.
On first down there, however, a reverse was blown up by the Panther defense back at the 17. From there, however, Cross tossed a swing pass to Powell who picked up a nice block from Nichols and raced down the right sideline for a touchdown.
A run for a two-point conversion was negated by an illegal block infraction, so Denker came on to book a 23-yard extra point.
And, in turn, the Bryant defense stifled the Panthers. On third-and-6 from their own 40, the Panthers’ Austin Samples was stuffed by Garrett, Michael Angel and Casey Goforth to force a punt.
The Hornets wound up having to punt it back, moments later, however, and, a play later, Austin Alley broke clean on a dive play and raced 48 yards before Johnathan Parks knocked him out of bounds at the 1. On the next play, Samples scored and, with Kyle Byrnes’ extra point, the game was tied with 6:56 left in the half.
Another well-executed tunnel screen to Thomas sparked the Hornets on an answering drive, picking up 26 yards to convert a third-and-10 from the Bryant 27. Powell picked up 16 on the next three plays before Cross found Parks in the flat and the wide receiver turned it into a 15-yard gain to the 16 with a nifty run after the catch.
A play later, a loss had the Hornets facing a third-and-14 from the 20. After Powell got 4 yards back, Denker came on to drill a 32-yard field goal, his third of the season, to snap the tie at the 1:10 mark.
Cabot got the ball to start the second half but, on the second play of their possession, the Hornets forced a fumble that Austin Dunahoo covered at the Panthers’ 45.
With a chance to break the game open, the Hornets’ effort was undermined by penalties, a holding infraction on second down and an offensive pass interference on third.
Powell punted Cabot back to its 19 and, three plays later, Haley broke loose for a 58-yard run only to have it called back because of a holding penalty.
The Panthers were unable to make up for the ground and punted back to Bryant.
Likewise, the subsequent Bryant possession was undermined by a holding penalty. Instead of reaching the Cabot 48, the Hornets were pushed back to their own 38 and, on the next play, a fumbled snap set up Cabot’s go-ahead drive, though it took the Panthers seven plays and over three minutes to cover the 30 yards to get there.