Junior Hornets’ late heroics kayos Kittens
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
If the Bryant Junior Hornets go on to win a division or conference championship this season, they may look back at the final three minutes of their game on Thursday, Oct. 9, against the Conway White Wampus Kittens as the turning point of their season.
With 3:41 to play, the Kittens had erased Bryant’s 6-0 lead on a 22-yard pass from Chance Lefler to Mitch Ferrell and an extra point kick by Chris Knight.
Now, it takes some history to put this in perspective. As eighth graders, these Hornets had struggled mightily and, this season, it seemed that, though they fought valiantly, come-from-behind victories were something the team just didn’t have the confidence to pull off.
The Hornets not only rallied to re-gain the lead but they came up with a defensive stand inside their own 15 in the final minute for a pride-inducing, confidence-building 12-7 victory that kept them in a three-way tie for the South Division lead.
Now 3-3 overall and 2-0 in the division, the Junior Hornets have a showdown with one of the other co-leaders, Conway White, on Thursday, Oct. 16.
The win over Conway Blue will do nothing but help.
“It doesn’t guarantee us a whole lot but at least we’re not in a hole,” commented Bryant head coach Jason Hay. “This team has been accustomed to trying to dig themselves out. We’ve got a little breathing room but we’ve got to go back to work because Conway Blue is coming and we’ve got to stop them again. I don’t think we’re going to sneak up on anybody now. People are going to know that we’re a little better than they thought we were.
“It was big for the offense’s confidence,” Hay added. “The defense — we’ve known that we can handle teams. Offensively, we just needed something to prove to these kids that what I’ve been telling about what they’re capable of. At least now, they know they can come through when the game’s on the line.”
The Junior Hornets’ winning touchdown came on Tyler Pickett’s sixth pass of the 70-yard drive. He completed all of those passes including one that was negated by penalty. And Pickett’s performance in the clutch came after his fumble was recovered by the Kittens setting up their TD drive.
Pickett finished 11-of-17 for 118 yards in the air. He started the winning drive with an 18-yard strike to Matt Bonner. Cody Williams turned a screen pass into a 15-yard gain, then Pickett and Chris Lawrence teamed up on a 12-yard completion to the Conway 25.
Another completion to Williams was negated by a blocking penalty that pushed the Hornets back to the 37.
But, tellingly, they overcame even that. Pickett hit Ben Smith for 12 yards back to the 25. On a second-and-10, a high snap looked as though it might hit the Hornets with another setback. But Pickett coolly scrambled after the ball, rolled to his right and found Smith inside the 5. Smith got past a Conway defender for the touchdown with 2:06 to go.
A try for two failed, however, and Conway had time to try to mount a comeback.
A short kickoff enabled the Kittens to gain possession at their own 45. On first down, however, Bryant’s Bracy Atkinson broke through and dropped Patrick Harris for a loss of 4. Two plays later, Conway faced a fourth-and-9. Somehow Kittens tight end Bryan Gammon got behind the Bryant defense and Lefler found him to a 37-yard completion to the Bryant 17.
With 1:04 left, Marcel Perry crashed for 5 yards. On second down, however, Jordan Mountjoy, Adam Brohl, Bonner and Hunter Stobaugh crashed through to drop Perry for a loss to the 15.
After a timeout, Lefler scrambled for 2 yards to set up a fourth-and-6 at the 13. After another timeout, the Kittens tried to catch the Hornets off guard with a wingback trap. But the Hornets crashed the party, dropping Ferrell for a 2-yard loss that preserved the win with :23 left.
“The defense — to hold those guys — it’s been the heart of the team nearly all year, except for maybe one game,” Hay emphasized. “That’s the first time these guys have won two games in a row. They came through in the clutch. With the game on the line, we came through.”
The Bryant defense held Conway to five first downs, 141 yards of total offense.
The game was scoreless at the half. Bryant took the opening possession to the Conway 32 but couldn’t convert and fourth-and-3.
In turn, Conway was forced to punt but a bad snap resulted in Bryant taking over at the Kittens’ 37. The Hornets, however, were unable to take advantage.
After a Conway punt, the teams traded turnovers in quick succession. Adam Boucher intercepted a pass for the Kittens, but moments later, Williams recovered a Conway fumble.
“We had two or three dropped balls in the first half,” Hay mentioned. “We could’ve scored on any of them. We came in (at the half) and the defense played good but I wasn’t satisfied with the offense. We gave them a little pep talk and the guys came out and finally turned into men, I guess. They did a good job.”
The Hornets forced a Conway punt early in the second half then blocked it, taking over at the Kittens’ 47. Using a power running game instead of their spread offense, they drove for the game’s first score. Williams did much of the damage but the key play came on a fourth-and-5 from the Conway 31. Pickett handed off to running back Dustin Seljan who started for the line only to lateral it back to Pickett who threw deep. The Kittens were flagged for interference and the Hornets gained a first down at the 16.
Williams scored a play later from the 7.
After forcing a Conway punt after three plays, the Hornets appeared to be on their way again. Pickett’s 21-yard scramble that converted a third-and-15, reached the 45 but a holding penalty pushed them back. A play later, Pickett was sacked and stripped of the ball. Conway’s Luke Howington recovered at the Bryant 28.
Three plays later, however, Conway faced a fourth-and-4 from the 22. That’s when Lefler and Ferrell connected for the touchdown that put the Hornets under the gun.