‘Underdog’ Hornets pick off Cyclones
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
RUSSELLVILLE — When a defense deploys its pass coverage, it often leaves a cornerback, as they say, “on an island.” It’s literally cornerback vs. receiver, one-on-one. It’s the ultimate challenge for both.
And there are going to be times when either one might get the best of it. When the pass comes, the corner has to judge whether he’s in position to make a play on the ball in hopes of a knockdown or an interception (while risking a miss that could result in a big play) or staying back, playing it safe and limiting the gain by playing the man and making the tackle after the catch.
On Friday, Oct. 6, the Russellville Cyclones were in rally mode. After falling behind 16-0 to the Bryant Hornets, the Cyclones had cut the lead to 16-7, made a defensive stop and had the football at their own 21.
The key to whatever success the Cyclones had had was their getting the ball, in a variety of ways, to senior Derek Owens. Often that meant he was a wide receiver and several times that meant he was covered by Bryant cornerback Jordan Knight.
On a second-and-9, the two were pitted against each other again and Russellville quarterback Blake Humphrey was looking deep for his favorite receiver. Knight had good coverage down the left sideline and appeared to have a shot at an interception. He went for it but the well-thrown ball was caught by Owens who raced for a touchdown covering 79 yards, cutting Bryant’s lead to 16-13.
A good football team and good football players have to be resilient. And the Bryant Hornets are a good football team.
With an answering drive that was as clutch as any they’ve had this season, the Hornets drove for a score then the defense came up with three interceptions — including one by Knight while covering Owens — to spoil Russellville’s homecoming with a 22-13 victory.
Despite the fact that the Hornets sported a 4-1 record and Russellville was 1-4, the Hornets were underdogs in the game.
“It just shows you what kind of respect we have around the state,” said Bryant head coach Paul Calley, resignedly.
Now, at 3-0 in conference, the Hornets find themselves sharing the 7A-Central Conference lead with Little Rock Central and North Little Rock.
“You know, we’re a young football team,” Calley added. “We haven’t proven, offensively, we can take it and drive it down people’s throats. We have made some big plays. I remember in the past, (former Bryant coach Daryl) Patton used to tell me — I’m the kind of guy, I want to put together drives, 12-play drives and stick it in the end zone — but he always used to remind me that, when you run our style offense, you may sputter but you’re going to get some big plays out of it too.”
Senior quarterback Matt Schrader provided a lot of those big plays including a pair of touchdown passes including a 25-yarder to Jake Jackson that capped the drive that snatched the momentum away from Russellville in the second half and set the final score.
“I was proud of them,” Calley said of his offense. “(Russellville) had all the momentum. I told the kids before the game, this momentum’s going to swing back and forth and it’s going to swing quick. We go up 16-0. We think it’s over. But they come out, get a score and, boom, momentum has swung their way.”
Then came the second TD and the anxiety intensified.
“(Knight) was in good position all night,” Calley emphasized. “And (Owens) is a good football player. And that quarterback — the one (Knight) got beat on, the throw was right on the money and it was a great catch. The only person that was going to catch it was the receiver. Jordan was in good position. I told him, you’ve got to have a short memory, when you’re a kicker and a d-back. And he does. I thought the whole secondary played great.”
“Things like that happen,” Knight acknowledged. “That’s a part of the game but you’ve got to get back out there and work your tail off and good things will happen.
“It felt great,” he said of his interception. “Just to get a little bit of revenge and just come through with a big play when our team really needed it was something that made me feel good because I was helping the team out.”
Safety Logan Cruse also had an interception and corner Trent Daniel had a pair as Bryant forced five turnovers, almost doubling the number created in the previous five games combined.
“The turnovers were the key,” Calley acknowledged.
Schrader accounted for 267 of the Hornets’ 304 yards of total offense. He rushed for a game-high 52 yards on 16 carries despite four sacks. In the air, he completed 15 of 27 passes for 215 yards. Taylor Masters grabbed eight of those passes for 147 yards and a touchdown.
On Bryant’s clinching touchdown drive, Schrader scrambled for runs of 8 and 7 yards and, at the end of the latter, Russellville was flagged for a late hit. From the Cyclones’ 36, Schrader passed to Masters for 4 yards then Jackson for 2. A third-down pass fell incomplete but, on fourth down, the Hornets got the Russellville defense to jump offside. It was the second time in the game that had happened, both times keeping a scoring drive alive.
A play later, Jackson ran a post and Schrader found him for the touchdown.
Russellville’s subsequent possession ended with Cruse’s interception at the Bryant 42. The Hornets picked up a couple of first downs then punted. The Cyclones got the ball at their 20 and a play into the drive, Knight got his pick.
After the Hornets missed a 42-yard field goal attempt, Russellville got two more plays and, on the second, Daniel hauled in a tipped pass for his second oskie.
Behind the blocking of the offensive line of Bracy Atkinson, Jordan Mountjoy, Chad Hinson, Scott Pilcher and Jody Rounsaville and the running of Dustin Seljan, Bryant ate up the final 3:12, driving to the Russellville 16.
The first quarter of the game was scoreless. Daniel made his first interception and the teams traded fumbles. Knight caused Russellville’s and Cruse recovered it. The one the Hornets lost was the first they’d let get away all season.
Bryant had a drive reach the Cyclones’ 26 before running out of downs. Russellville, with the help of a pass interference penalty, managed to drive to the Bryant 37 before stalling. The Hornets were punted back to their own 12 but, with the help of a roughing the passer penalty that converted a third-down, they drove for paydirt. On a first-and-15 from the Bryant 35, Schrader found Masters on a curl route. Masters made the catch, broke a tackle and rolled down the sideline for the score.
Though Knight’s extra point hit the right upright, no good, leaving it 6-0, he would later bounce back and connect on a field goal.
The teams traded punts with Bryant getting the better of the field position much to the credit of punter Cody Williams who averaged 41 yards a kick. Russellville was backed up to its own 14 but put together a drive to the Bryant 37. That’s when senior defensive end Chris Taylor dropped Humphrey for a loss and, on the next play, combined with Williams on a sack. The Cyclones got 14 of those yards back and, after a timeout with 1:06 left in the half, decided to go for it on fourth-and-8 at the Bryant 35. But with Chad England supplying pressure on Humphrey and Jared Szabad nearly making an interception, the Cyclones were denied.
Frustrated with the incompletion, Owens shoved Szabad from behind and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.
That proved to be costly when, from the 50 with 1:00 left, the Hornets drove to the 2. Schrader contributed a 10-yard scramble and pass completions of 9 yards to Tim Floyd and Masters. On a fourth-and-1 at the 18, he sneaked for a first down. After a timeout with :14 showing, the senior quarterback nearly scored as he evaded the rush and weaved his way to the 2. The Hornets quickly lined up and Schrader spiked the ball to stop the clock with :02 to go.
Knight came on and coolly knocked through a 19-yard field goal to give the Hornets a 9-0 halftime advantage.
Bryant got the ball to start the second half and and quickly increased that advantage. A 39-yard kickoff return by Jackson set things up. Three plays later, the Hornets were lined up to punt, but the drive stayed alive when Russellville jumped offside.
The offense returned and Schrader went deep to Masters with a perfectly thrown pass that the receiver hauled in despite pass interference at the 7. On the next play, Seljan bulled into the end zone. Knight added the extra point and it was 16-0.
Humphrey went 4-for-4 passing on Russellville’s answering drive. The big play came on a fake reverse. Humphrey threw back to Andy Taylor for a 42-yard gain to the 4. A play later, running back Cory Baxley scored from the 2.
The Cylcones tried to add a two-point conversion but with Taylor pressuring Humphrey the pass fell incomplete and it was 16-6 with 6:23 left in the third quarter.
Bryant got enough of a drive going after that to punt Russellville back to its 20 before Humphrey and Owens connected for the second Cyclones’ score.