Record-setting outburst highlights Hornets’ victory over conference-rival Rockets

For more photos of this event by Kevin Nagle, go here

LaTavion Scott tries to split Little Rock Catholic defenders Peter Fitz (14) and Grant Smithson (3). (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

The Bryant Hornets smashed a 19-year-old school record for total offense in a single game with 626 yards on the way to a 49-17 victory over the Little Rock Catholic Rockets on Friday night as they remained unbeaten overall at 5-0 and improved to 2-0 in the 7A-Central Conference.

The previous high mark was 562 yards set in 1998 in a 42-39 win over Camden Fairview.

Junior quarterback Ren Hefley was 24 of 38 for 363 yards and four touchdowns while junior running back LaTavion Scott rushed for 128 yards of the team total of 247 with two TD runs.

All of that came after a shaky start in which Bryant fell behind 7-0 and couldn’t manage a first down in its first two possessions.

“The thing is, we can play a lot better,” stated Bryant head coach Buck James. “And we’re still winning. That’s good. We’re 5-0. We scored 49 points. We really should’ve held them to 3. If you take two plays away, you’re looking at a 49-3 game.”

Ja’Kalon Pittman makes a leaping catch near the Little Rock Catholic sideline. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

The two plays were a muffed punt early in the game. The Hornets’ defense held the Rockets to a three-and-out. Christopher Elser’s punt was touched by Bryant return man Cameron Vail and Catholic’s Jake McNeil fell on the ball at the Bryant 25. That set up quarterback Jake James’ 10-yard touchdown pass to William Plafcan.

Bryant eventually got it going offensively and built a 21-7 advantage before all-State running back Samy Johnson, who was bottled up otherwise, got to the corner and sprinted 78 yards for a touchdown.

Johnson finished with 132 yards rushing on 14 carries.

The Hornets led 28-17 at the half after Elser boomed a 54-yard field goal late in the second quarter. The kick, which had plenty of room to spare, was just shy of the state record of 57 yards set by Andrew Miller of Hackett in 1998. He became the sixth kicker in state history with a field goal of 54 yards or longer.

After that the Hornets shut out the Rockets in the second half to complete the rout.

“We had a muffed punt then we just didn’t keep leverage on our outside zone,” Coach James related. “We’ve got to improve some on our kick game, for sure. And I think that hurt our defense as much as anything.”

As for the offensive production, he stated, “We saw a defense that basically said, ‘Okay, you can take all this but I’m not going to let you have all that.’ I thought we did a good job of staying patient.

“They just dropped seven, eight guys a lot of times,” he explained. “They played overhangs out there to keep everything squeezed in. Basically, ‘I’ll just sit here and let you dink and dunk and run at us but you’re not going to be able to take the big shots.’ I thought they had a good plan for us. I thought we adjusted well and got better at it.”

Randy Thomas (3) hauls in a touchdown pass in front of Catholic defender Mason Lane. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

The Hornets tied the game late in the first quarter. A 31-yard gallop by Scott set up the touchdown and provided the Hornets’ initial first down. They would eventually had 30 first downs, unofficially breaking the school mark of 29 set in 2011 against Fort Smith Northside.

The touchdown came on a 39-yard pass from Hefley to Murray that came despite the Rockets’ defensive approach. Martin Ramirez added the extra point to tie it.

The Bryant defense forced a punt for the third consecutive possession, thanks in part of Rondale Messer’s break-up of a deep pass from Jake James intended for tight end Adam Shepherd. Elser punted the Hornets back to their own 7 and, though they rooted the ball out to the 36, they had to punt it back.

When the Hornets got it back with 10:38 left in the half, they drove 61 yards in seven plays. Hefley hit Ja’Kalon Pittman for 25 yards to spur the drive. A third-down conversion was the product of a 14-yard completion to Luke Curtis. A play later, Hefley found Randy Thomas for the go-ahead touchdown from 17 yards out. Ramirez knocked through the PAT to make it 14-7.

The Hornets’ defense forced three turnovers and the first of them occurred on the very next snap by Catholic. Vail popped the ball loose on a jarring tackle of running back Luke Schildknecht and defensive tackle Josh Salguerio recovered.

Four plays later, Scott powered into the end zone from a yard out and Ramirez booted it to 21-7.

Kris King prepares for contact as he breaks through a hole produced by offensive linemen Clay McElyea (79), Zak Kemp (51) and tight end Luke Curtis (83). (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

In less than 30 game-seconds, Johnson skirted right end and scored, cutting the lead back to 7.

But the Hornets answered with a time-crunching 80-yard touchdown march in 11 plays. They had to overcome a holding penalty that negated a 30-yard run by Scott. On the next play, however, the Hornets set up a screen pass. Hefley found Kris King who crashed 33 yards.

Scott dashed for 12 yards then consecutive completions to Pittman resulted in a 10-yard touchdown connection. With the Ramirez PAT, the Hornets had their 14-point lead back.

A strong kickoff return by Plafcan set up Elser’s long field goal with 1:25 left in the half.

To start the third quarter, Bryant drove 80 yards again for a touchdown. It took 11 plays. Key moments included a third-down conversion on a pass from Hefley to Thomas. Behind the running for Scott, King and Ahmad Adams led to Scott’s 9-yard touchdown run and, with the extra point, a 35-17 lead.

Luke Curtis looks for running room after making a catch. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

Catholic made a bid to answer driving to its own 25 to the Bryant 12. Johnson had a 24-yard run along the way and Jake James completed a pair of passes to Thomas Staab.

From the 12, however, James, pressured by blitzing linebacker Jake Wright, had to get rid of the ball too quickly. On second down, Johnny Wallace cut down Schildknecht for a loss.

So, facing a third-and-11 at the Bryant 13, the Rockets went to the air. James couldn’t find a receiver and rolled to his right. But he threw into a crowd. Linebacker Jakob Neel deflected the ball away from the intended receiver. The loose ball popped into the air and Salguerio, hustling back to help, caught it.

In turn, the Rockets, who nearly intercepted three or four other passes, held onto this one as Cole Black-Oken pulled it down.

But Catholic could not muster a first down. Messer and Conner Davis stopped Johnson for a loss on second down. Quarterback Cooper Monroe tried to throw for a first down but his pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage by Bryant linebacker Antonio Todd and it fell incomplete.

Elser’s booming punt pinned the Hornets back at their own 7. But the Hornets scored anyway. The 93-yard drive included an 89-yard touchdown pass. Hefley’s pass was nearly picked off but the ball got through to Murray who somehow kept his concentration to secure it, racing down the sideline for the points. That pushed the lead to 42-17.

As the reserves filtered into the contest for both teams, the Hornets capped the game with a 49-yard drive in seven plays. Sophomore quarterback Jake Meaders hit Matthew Sandidge with a 16-yard strike. A play later, on second-and-6 at the 18, Adams powered his way to the end zone but a penalty negated the play. After runs by Keethan Hudson and Meaders, Adams got another shot from 15 yards out. This time, there were no flags as he scored. Grayson Scoles added the extra point from 25 yards out after an illegal substitution penalty wound up having no effect.

Bryant travels to venerable old Quigley-Cox Stadium at Little Rock Central next Friday.

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