Hornets shock Central
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
The scoreboard clock flashed to 0:06.3 when Bryant Hornets junior wide receiver Dustin Holland cradled into his arms a rifle-shot pass from classmate Anthony Mask a yard deep in the north end zone at Bryant Stadium on a soggy Friday night in October. Already on their feet, where they’d been for much of the second half, the hardy pack of Bryant fans erupted into a celebration exceeded only by the Hornets players and coaches on the field. Many of the Little Rock Central defenders, so proud and certain before the game, sank to their knees much like the hearts of their fans, who had also been on their feet most of the night.
The Hornets had played the Tigers off their feet, literally.
Central’s defense, which had allowed just 3 points in their first five games (including shutouts of tradition-rich teams like West Memphis, Cabot, Pine Bluff and Conway), had just surrendered 22 points to the Bryant Hornets including a game-winning touchdown drive that covered 73 yards. The Hornets had crammed 15 plays into that 1:36 march that culminated with Mask’s dart to Holland.
Bryant thus snapped the Central Tigers’ 19-game win streak. A skein during which the team had captured a AAAAA-Central Conference title, a Class AAAAA State championship and those five impressive wins to start the 2004 season plus the consensus No. 1 ranking in the state.
Before the game, Bryant head coach Paul Calley said, “We told the kids all week, nobody believes we can beat them. We have nothing to lose. Go out there and play hard, have fun and maybe have something in the end that you can remember the rest of your life.”
And, indeed, those players and Bryant fans everywhere will remember: Hornets 22, Central 19.
“The character of these kids is unbelievable,” stated Calley, afterwards. “We have maybe three or four kids that could play some for Central yet we can come out here and, as a team, we can win the football game.”
The winning drive came after Central, which trailed much of the game, had stepped up with a go-ahead score earlier in the fourth quarter. The Tigers had been turned back once. After driving to the Bryant 6 with just over four minutes left in the game, running back Thomas Paige was hit as he took a handoff, fumbled and Bryant recovered.
“Our defense came up with some big stops,” Calley emphasized. Bryant forced five turnovers which offset three of its own.
“I was counting on them turning the ball over and us not,” Calley added.
The vaunted Central defense forced the Hornets to punt moments later, however, and the Tigers got the ball back at the Bryant 45 with 3:11 to go. The Hornet defense appeared to be equal to the challenge. On first down, linebacker Corey Caldwell broke through and dropped tailback Mickey Dean for a loss of 4. An incompletion followed and the Tigers faced a third-and-14. A diving catch by wideout Stewart Franks at the Bryant 11, kept the Tigers’ hopes alive. On the next play, Dean, cutting back against the grain of Bryant’s pursuit, dashed into the end zone to give his team a 19-15 lead with 1:46 left to play.
Though a two-point conversion attempt failed, it looked to most folks as though Bryant’s valiant effort would come up short and Central would escape with its winning streak and ranking intact.
But the Hornets had been effective all night with their short passing game which also set up some deeper routes. Mask, who was 30 of 54 (one attempt and two completions short of matching school records), hit Richie Wood with a 10-yard pass to get what proved to be a game-winning drive for the record books under way.
During the drive, the Hornets converted a pair of fourth-downs including the final play, truly their final chance to win, which was a fourth-and-10 at the Central 15.
Running back Brandon Butler had not caught a pass this season going into the game and had hardly had one thrown to him. But, typical of the Bryant game-plan, Butler caught six passes for 54 yards against Central, including a 9-yard play that converted a third-and-2 from the Central 24 with less than 30 seconds left to play. That play got the Hornets to the 15.
Three incompletions followed but one of those set up the winning score.
“I saw that the defender flew out and I just settled down,” Holland said afterwards. “The linemen gave Anthony time and he found the open receiver. He threw a perfect pass right between the numbers, touchdown.”
The play was designed for Holland to cut outside, he said, but he broke off the route because the Tiger defenders had anticipated the same pattern.
“We had been running the play consecutively and when I broke out, they started to catch on, so I settled down,” Holland recalled. “(The defender) read the play and flew out, so when I settled down Anthony saw me and threw it to me.”
He made sure he was in the end zone.
“Down and distance is something our coaches preach to us every day,” he said. “I made sure I was in the end zone.”
“I knew he was going to be there,” Mask said. “We ran the play three times in a row and they couldn’t stop it. We went back to it and as soon as he made the break on that route I just knew he was going to be wide open.”
“We knew they were going to play soft,” Calley said of Central’s strategy on the final drive. “They went to a robber in the middle of the field and four down linemen (after using five the rest of the game). That’s easier for us to block. They were going to give us the short stuff. So I told (offensive coordinator) Coach (Jared) McBride, let’s concentrate on the short stuff, work it down the field and then, when we run out of time, we’ve got to take shots at the end zone. Coach McBride did a great job, under pressure, making the play calls.
“A lot of the credit goes to the coaching staff Coach (Terry) Harper with the receivers, Coach McBride, Coach (Brad Stroud (defensive line), Coach (Kris) Clark (secondary) and Coach (Steve) Griffith (defensive coordinator),” Calley asserted.
Of course, that applied to Calley too. He coaches the offensive line. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the drive and Bryant’s offensive effort all night was the protection Mask received from those guys. He was sacked just once and flushed out of the pocket and forced to run once against some of Central’s best players along the defensive front.
“Our offensive line was fantastic,” Mask stated. “Against one of the best d-lines in the state, we had one sack. That’s just awesome.”
“I’m proud of them,” Calley said. “I’m tickled to death. I moved (David) Hollis to guard this week to try to block one of their big three-techniques (tackles) and moved Spenser Barksdale to tackle. He’s never played tackle before in his life. But I thought that’s what we had to do to be successful.”
Those two teamed up with center Seth Lawson, right guard Brian Lee and right tackle Andrew Hughes in frustrating the Tigers fearsome front five.
“They have a great defensive line,” Hollis acknowledged. “We knew they were going to be big. Coach Calley worked us all week and we just did what he told us to do. But if Anthony hadn’t gotten those throws off, it wouldn’t have mattered what we did.”
“I can’t say enough about them,” Calley said of his team. “Just tremendous, tremendous kids.”
Tigers frustrated by Bryant tactics
By ROB PATRICK
The Little Rock Central Tigers defenders were barking at each other, trying to fire each other up. This wasn’t supposed to be happening.
West Memphis hadn’t been able to move the ball on them. They’d stuff Pine Bluff and Cabot. Conway could hardly get past midfield. Sure, Little Rock Catholic kicked a field goal but it was late, after the game was decided and reserves were in.
And things started out like usual for the Tigers. They’d taken an early lead thanks in large part to a 55-yard pass completion from quarterback Clark Irwin to wide receiver Stewart Franks who, at 6-4, 200 pounds just out-reached Bryant cornerback Todd Bryan who, despite giving up five inches and 40 pounds to Franks, was right with him on the route.
Though it took three plays for Central to score from the 3 against the plucky Bryant defense, Irwin got it done with a 1-yard sneak and Central led 7-0.
And Bryant was unable to pick up a first down on its first possession. So, things seemed normal enough.
But, on third down during that possession, Bryant quarterback Anthony Mask completed a 6-yard pass to running back Brandon Butler. It was Butler’s first reception of the year and the first of six in the game. And it was an indication of things to come. Bryant had found the soft spot in the vaunted Central defense.
“They were leaving our inside receivers uncovered,” Bryant head coach Paul Calley said. “They did it last year, they did it the year before. And they’re good enough to play it. On a dry field, their safeties can get to where they need to be and their linebackers too. I think the footing out here slowed them down a little bit.”
After Bryant forced a Central punt and took over at its 18, the strategy began to unfold. Mask hit Butler for a 13-yard completion. A play later, Dustin Holland caught a short pass that turned into an 11-yard gain. Jon Isbell pulled in a 13-yarder, Butler caught one for 12 and Blake Zuber picked up 6 with a catch.
All of a sudden, Bryant was threatening to score. And the Tigers were growling, at each other.
Bryant reached the 21 before Mask, trying to throw back over the middle as he rolled to the left, had the ball slip out of his hands. It was intercepted by Central linebacker Chris Arnold.
The Bryant defense, as it has done much of the season so far, picked up the offense, however. When Zach Kitchens and Corey Caldwell slashed through to drop tailback Mickey Dean for a loss of 4 on a third-down play from the Central 45, the Tigers were forced to punt again.
The Hornets took up where they left off, marching to the Central 15 where Mask, taking advantage of Central’s aggressive secondary, pump-faked on wide receiver Richie Wood’s first move. The Tiger secondary bit on the fake and Wood got behind them and into the end zone where Mask hit him for a touchdown.
Five games and one quarter deep into the season, Central’s defense had finally given up a touchdown.
A problem with the snap and hold on the extra point sabotaged that effort so Central still held a 7-6 lead. But the Hornets had broken the seal.
And three plays later, they were on their way to taking a lead. Safety Bryan Griffith picked off an Irwin pass at the Bryant 45 and returned it to the Central 47. It was the first of two Griffith interceptions — he almost had two others — and five Tiger turnovers.
“I didn’t have a man to cover so I could be free to rob,” Griffith said after the game. “That helped a lot. They only have a few certain routes and it was easy to read.”
Two plays later, the pump fake burned the Tigers again as Zuber made a second move on his route and the cornerback had to interfere to prevent a deep completion.
Yet, the Tigers, still exhorting each other, toughened up and held the Hornets at the 17. Bryan came on to attempt a field goal. Kicking despite a sore ankle on his plant leg and the wet conditions, Bryan’s kick was wide right. But the Hornets got a break when Central was flagged for a personal foul. Desperate to not fall behind for the first time all season, the Tigers had players that climbed the back of their teammates to try to get to the kick. The penalty gave Bryant a new set of downs at the 8.
They were only able to get to the 4 but, given a second chance, Bryan nailed a 21-yard field goal to put the Hornets up 9-7 with 2:20 left in the half.
It had been a stellar half for one of the defenses. But it wasn’t Central’s. Bryant had held the Tigers to two first downs and 87 yards of total offense, 55 of which had come on one play.
The two teams traded turnovers to start the second half. Bryant’s fumble came at the end of a 15-yard completion from Mask to Isbell. But a play later, Griffith came up with his second pick, returning to the Central 40.
It took a fourth-down completion from Mask to Zuber to keep the drive alive then, on the next play, Wood, running a seam route, made a spectacular one-handed snag in traffic inside the 10 and dashed into the end zone to extend the lead.
An offside penalty on the extra point attempt gave Calley the notion to go for 2 from a yard and a half away, hoping to make it a 10-point advantage. But the run failed. Bryant’s lead was 15-7 and Central remained a touchdown and two-point conversion from tying it.
The lead held through the end of the third quarter though a Bryant fumble at its own 30 gave the Tigers a short field with which to cut the margin.
A third-down screen pass to Dean picked up 13 yards to the 15 then a penalty moved it to the 9. Two plays later, Irwin sneaked in from the 1 to make it 15-13.
As the Hornets had earlier, Central got a break on the two-point conversion try when Bryant jumped offsides. But even though the 3-yards needed had been cut in half, the Hornets, led by safety Hunter Nugent who paced the team with nine tackles in the game, smacked Irwin who was trying an option keeper and the Hornets buried him to preserve the 2-point lead.
On the next play from scrimmage, Mask was sacked for the only time all night, a loss of three.
“They kept going to different looks up front,” Calley said of the Central defense. “We couldn’t run the ball. They’re just physically better than us up front. We tried to run block but we could pass block. I told (offensive coordinator) Coach (Jared) McBride, if we have to throw it every down, we’re going to have to do it to win the football game. And our guys fought their tails off up front. That’s the best defensive line around. Anthony did a good job avoiding the rush and throwing the ball out of bounds when we didn’t have anything.”
The teams traded punts with Central gradually gaining a significant field-position advantage. With 5:59 to play, the Tigers started a drive at the Bryant 45. On first down, the Hornets spoiled an option play. With Colby Landers drawing a bead on pitch man Thomas Paige, Irwin had to keep it and Jonathan Holt nailed him for a 6-yard loss. On second down, the Tigers tried to run the play that had set up their first touchdown. But this time, Bryan had position and knocked the pass down. Franks prevented an interception in fact.
On the next play, however, Franks hauled in an Irwin aerial at the Bryant 18. From there, Dean dashed to the 6 but, on a first and goal, the Hornets forced a turnover as Paige was separated from the ball.
Bryant used up about a minute of clock but had to punt the ball back. Again, Central got it at the Hornets’ 45 and, this time, found paydirt. And again it took an big catch from Franks to keep the drive alive. The 38-yard completion was followed by Dean’s 11-yard touchdown run for the go-ahead score with 1:46 left to play.
A try for 2 failed but, it figured that the 19-15 lead was enough with the best defense in the state and so little time left.
That, plus the fact that the Hornets had just one timeout left, is what made Bryant’s march so special. The Hornets stayed alive when they converted a fourth-and-10 from their own 37. Mask and Wood hooked up for 14 yards with 1:12 to go.
Two plays later, a third-down pass to Holland reached the Central 32 with :39.6 left.
On that play, a Central defender was slow to get up from the tackle. Whether the Tigers were just trying to waste some clock or the injury was legitimate, it failed to stall the Hornets. The officials rightly stopped the clock and sent the injured play to the sideline.
Facing a third-and-2 at the 24, Mask found Butler for 9 yards to the 15. The Bryant quarterback then spiked the ball to stop the clock with :21.6 left. But two incompletions followed and, with :10 left, the Hornets snapped the ball on a fourth-and-10 from the 15. It was their last chance.
Mask rolled a bit to the right and bore down on his throw through a crease in the rushing Tiger defensive linemen. Holland had quickly gotten position in front of a defensive back a yard deep into the end zone. And the pass was right on target with six seconds left to play.
The celebration was such that the Hornets were penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. Bryan, however, coolly nailed the 35-yard extra point to set the final score.
Travis Cockerham pooched the kickoff and Central covered it at its 39. The Tigers’ last gasp was a trick play. Irwin threw a lateral to Franks who wound up and threw as far as he could. Nugent intercepted at the 15 to end the game.
Calling the Shot: During his “Hornets Profile” interview for the Bryant Times last week, Bryant senior guard Rob Goshien was asked about the upcoming Little Rock Central game. “I think Central’s going to come out and strike early but I think our defense is really going to hold them. They haven’t played a defense like ours yet. Our defense is stout.”
Goshien, who gets most of his playing time protecting kicker Todd Bryan and holder Travis Queck on field goal and extra-point attempts, was also asked what he would remember most about playing football at Bryant High.
“Probably when we beat Central,” he replied. “And the Conway game two years ago. That was a good game too. But, when we beat Central, that’s going to be it.”
It just so happened too that the Hornets’ captains for the game, who are randomly chosen from among the seniors each week, were — and won’t these four remember this — Landon Bullock, Mark Brown, Josh Staggs and, yes, Rob Goshien.
Calling the Shot II: Senior safety Jordan Fulmer figured it would be a battle of defenses. “I think if our defense can hold them under 20 points . . . our offense can put some points up.”
Linebacker Corey Caldwell added, “It’ll be a really exciting game.”
This team knew.
“We believed all week that definitely, we could win,” said senior Bryan Griffith after the game. “No doubt. We had the best week of practice of our lives. It was awesome. It’s probably the biggest win in Bryant history. It means if we win out, we have a conference championship.”
“It’s the greatest feeling I’ve had in a long time,” added David Hollis.
“It’s awesome, just an awesome feeling,” said linebacker Travis Queck. “It was great. It was a good team effort. We just had heart. We knew it was going to be hard but we came out and worked hard every day preparing for the 13th-ranked team in the nation.”
Biggest win? So was it the biggest win in Bryant football history? Could be. Here’s some of the competition from recent years for that honor:
1978, Bryant 3, Benton 0 — The Hornets, a little Class AAA team back then defeats the mighty Panthers for the first time. In 1977, Benton had gone 11-1-1 and won the Class AAAA State championship.
1980, Bryant 10, Lake Hamilton 9 — The Hornets clinch a share of the 5AAA-South Conference championship. The next week they lost to Lakeside and had to share the title with the Rams and Malvern. But only two teams got to go to State back then and the Hornets were the ones that had to stay home because of the tie-breaking procedures.
1985, Bryant 14, Benton 7 — The Hornets beat the Panthers for the second year in a row and clinch their first State playoff spot with a 7-3 record. (They lost to Fayetteville in the first round, 41-14 the next week.)
1995, Bryant 16, Little Rock Fair 13 — The team’s fourth win in a row to start the season after nine losing seasons in a row. A bid to knock off mighty Pine Bluff fell short the next week, 17-10 and, unfortunately, the Hornets could only win one more time the rest of the season, finishing 5-5. Pine Bluff went on to finish 14-0 and win the Class AAAA State title.
1999, Bryant 30, Conway 15 — A season opener that sparked the greatest season, to date, of Bryant history, 11 straight victories, a No. 1 ranking, a AAAAA-South Conference championship.
1999, Bryant 55, Pine Bluff 31 — Still, the program’s only win over the Zebras who had never, and haven’t since, given up as many points. Forgotten was the fact that, the week before, the Hornets barely beat Sheridan 20-19.
1999, Bryant 31, El Dorado 7 — Perhaps the peak of an unforgettable season, the Hornets and Wildcats were both unbeaten in league play when Bryant traveled to El Dorado and cruised to a 31-0 lead to take the league lead. The state’s No. 1 ranking resulted.
1999, Bryant 42, Benton 7 — The Hornets completed an unbeaten conference season blasting their rivals in front of an incredible crowd at Benton’s C.W. Lewis Stadium. The win also snapped a 13-year drought in the rivalry for the Hornets.
1999, Bryant 21, Conway 14 — The first State playoff win in school history in the program’s first playoff game at home and first playoff game of any kind since 1985.
2001, Bryant 37, Lake Hamilton 31 — In a triple overtime thriller, the Hornets came from behind and got into position for a return to the playoffs.
2002, Bryant 36, Conway 33 — Led by Peyton Hillis, the No. 1-ranked and unbeaten Wampus Cats were done in by the Hornets. Sophomore Todd Bryan kicked a field goal to send it into overtime with 17 second left, then won it with a 3-pointer in the first OT after Hillis, on a third-down play, was stopped at the 1 by sophomore Bryan Griffith and Conway missed a field goal. Bryant clinched a return to the playoffs.
2003, Bryant 20, Camden Fairview 7 — On the road, the Hornets stunned the Cardinals, one of four teams that tied for the AAAAA-South Conference championship. It was the Bryant program’s second playoff win ever.
sobering anniversary: After the game, senior Bryan Griffith dedicated the win over Central to Justin Williams. A former teammate, Williams, attending college in Conway, was killed in an auto accident there on the wet streets last year. The win over Central was Friday, Oct. 8. The next day was the anniversary of Williams’ death.