Record-setting pass plays highlight Jr. Hornets’ romp
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
There was a lot of talk before the 2007 football season about how special, how great the Bryant Hornets freshman team could be. A lot of folks thought they were bound for an unbeaten season and the first freshman outright conference championship since the 1970s.
So when the season started — though there were extenuating circumstances — and the Hornets struggled to a 0-0 tie with the Searcy Lion Cubs, it was a shocker to players, fans and coaches.
Searcy has, since then, won just once in six games.
The Hornets could’ve hung their heads, felt sorry for themselves and dragged their way through the rest of the season. But, instead — and this may be the most promising sign of all about this group — they went to work to prove the advanced billing was legit.
On Thursday, Oct. 4, they began the second half of the season in full stride. For the second week in a row, against teams with winning records, the Hornets invoked the “mercy rule” by halftime. A week after building a 35-0 lead at North Little Rock in the first half, Bryant rolled to a 42-0 advantage before the break on the way to a 42-7 win over the Catholic Rockets freshman team to improve to 5-0-1 overall this season and 4-0 in the South Division of the Central Arkansas Conference. The Hornets took over sole possession of first place in the Division with the loss by Cabot South to North Little Rock.
“It’s been a long process and I’m not going to go ahead and tell you that it’s fixed,” stated head coach Jason Hay. “I’ll tell you when the season’s over with and we’ve accomplished what we want to accomplish.
“It’s hard to mercy-rule somebody in junior high,” he acknowledged, referring to the eight-minute quarters. “I don’t know. What do you say? It’s 42-0 with five minutes left in the second quarter — that’s about as good as it gets.”
Bryant’s passing game was devastating. In building that 42-0 lead, the Hornets set three new team records: Longest touchdown pass (85 yards from Dylan Pritchett to Brian Floyd), most touchdown passes thrown by an individual in a game (Blake Davidson with five) and most touchdown receptions in a game (Tanner Tolbert with three).
Hay also speculated that no Bryant freshman team had ever scored 27 points in a quarter nor 42 points in a half. The team record for points in an entire game is 50.
Davidson, after completing just 5 of 18 passes in the opener against Searcy, has completed 72 percent of his throws (29 of 40) with 11 touchdowns including going 6-for-7 for 182 yards and those five scores against the Rockets. That first-game performance included a number of drops by the Bryant receivers too but now that has changed as well. Both Floyd and Tolbert made splendid catches against the Rockets. And all four of Tolbert’s receptions as well as Floyd’s only catch went for points. Tolbert had 12 receptions on the season and seven of them have been for touchdowns. Floyd has just four catches on the season but they’ve accounted for almost 200 yards (193) and two scores.
“Ever since that first week, we have started practice with catching,” Hay said. “We’ve never thrown on Fridays but we go out on Friday now after we watch tape and throw. Every time we run, we’re throwing four receivers four fades. We’re throwing as much as we possibly can. I never want what happened against Searcy to happen again.”
The staple of the Hornets — defense — has been consistent throughout. Bryant has allowed just 6 points before the fourth quarter this season. Against Catholic, by the time the Hornets had their 42-0 lead, the Rockets were without a first down and had managed a net of just 3 yards on 10 snaps.
Yes, it happened fast. The Hornets scored on their first three plays of the game. They opened with the same play that broke big to start the game against North Little Rock. Davidson, lined up behind four teammates, took the snap and threw a lateral to Pritchett who was lined up behind four other Hornets. Pritchett then threw deep to the streaking Floyd well behind the Rockets’ secondary for the record-setting 85-yard touchdown play.
Hay wasn’t hesitant to use the play whether the Rockets knew about it or not.
“They’ve still got to stop it,” he stated. “They didn’t want to trade tapes. That’s their loss and our gain. We’ve run that play against every team in the conference. You’d think it’d quit working.”
In fact, the Rockets tried a similar play on its first try but the pass was well-covered and overthrown. On the next play, Josh Hampton recovered a Rockets fumble at the Catholic 21.
On the Hornets’ first play, Davidson and Tolbert hooked up for the first time for the TD.
A bad snap on the extra point left it 13-0 less than two minutes into the game.
Catholic was again stymied on offense, though the Rockets were within a yard of a first down near midfield after a good kickoff return. They went for it on fourth down only to have the Hornets, led by Hampton and Hunter Mayall, bury running back Nick Rougeau for a loss.
“The defense came out and stuffed them,” Hay praised.
The Bryant offense returned to the field and lined up as they had on the first play of the game. This time, however, with the Rocket defense shifting over to cover up Pritchett, Davidson dropped back and threw to Tolbert on the backside. Tolbert reached up and tipped the pass to himself and sailed in for a 45-yard touchdown that made it 19-0.
The Rockets muffed the ensuing kickoff and the Hornets were back in business again. Caleb Garrett, back for the first time since suffering an injury early in the season, hauled in an 18-yard pass from Davidson to get things going. As nice a play as it was, though, it was incredibly the first the Hornets had run that didn’t go for points.
A pair of penalties pushed Bryant back. On a second and 20, Tolbert, lining up at quarterback, ran right and fumbled. But Jordan Murdock pounced on the loose ball as the Hornets retained possession.
Pritchett, the Hornets’ leading scorer and rusher, then got his only carry of the night, pounding 11 yards to the 10. That set up Davidson’s 10-yard strike to Hampton for the fourth TD of the first quarter. That duo teamed up for the two-point conversion and the Hornets led 27-0.
After the Rockets picked up 4 yards on three plays and punted, the Hornets set up shop 43 yards away from more. Another deep pass from Davidson to Tolbert covered all of that ground on the first play. Pritchett, who set up the play with a 15-yard punt return, ran for the two-point conversion and Bryant led 35-0 with 6:57 still to play in the half.
And when the Rockets couldn’t convert a fourth down at their own 41 moments later, the Hornets produced another one-play drive. Though a penalty moved them back to the 45, Davidson threw to Tolbert on a bubble screen and the receiver turned into a touchdown play.
With the extra point booted by Bo Stitch, the Hornets had a 42-0 lead with 5:10 still to go in the half. They’d run 10 offensive plays and scored on six of them.
Reserves played the rest of the game for Bryant. Defensively, they forced another Catholic turnover with Kody Person recovering.
Caleb Milam, seeing his first action of the season after returning from an injury, completed his first two passes but a fumble returned possession to the Rockets at their own 15.
In the second half, the clock ran non-stop in accordance with the “mercy rule.”
Aided by a roughing the passer penalty, the Rockets drove to the Bryant 20 where, on fourth-and-9, the Bryant defense stopped quarterback Michael Barr short of the first down with :09.5 on the clock.
On the first drive of the second half, the Hornet reserves made another nice stand. On a fourth-and-1 at midfield, they swarmed running back Anthony Marks with linebacker Collin Chapdelaine leading the way.
Catholic forced the lone Bryant punt of the game setting up its lone scoring drive engineered by back-up quarterback Bonner Chilton. It covered 62 yards in six plays, highlighted by the only Rockets completion of the night from Chilton to Taylor Sykes. The 17-yard strike reached the 7. After a penalty moved it to the 4, Austin Beck took it in for the score.
The Hornets host Sheridan on Thursday, Oct. 11.