Remembering: Salt Bowl 3 — Bryan, defense give Bryant a lift

As part of the countdown to the 10th Salt Bowl, will feature the game stories published in the Bryant Times about the first nine. We’ll post new ones each day. Salt Bowl III was the first played at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock on Friday, Sept. 13, 2002. There were two stories. — Rob



LITTLE ROCK — Many was the time during the 2001 football season that the coaches and fans of the Bryant Hornets looked longingly at the Bryant Junior High Mustangs. You see, the Hornets struggled mightily with their kicking game in 2001 and the Mustangs had the answer, just a year short of high school eligibility.

Now a sophomore on the high school team, Todd Bryan fulfilled much of the promise he showed with the Mustangs by kicking three field goals including what proved to be the game-winner with 5:15 to play as the Hornets escaped the upset-minded Benton Panthers 16-13 at War Memorial Stadium on Friday, Sept. 13.[more]

Bryan also kicked a crucial extra point, tying the game at 13 with 3:43 to go in the third quarter.

That kick, and the fact that it tied the game just minutes after Benton failed on a field goal attempt that would have extended a 13-6 lead, may have had as much to do with Bryant’s victory as the final 3-pointer.

You see, the Benton Panthers may be in a place which so many Bryant Hornets teams of the past knew all too well. And, in turn, these Hornets may be where so many past Panthers were.

With four Bryant wins in a row now, these Hornets believe that, when the chips are down, they’ll find a way to beat Benton, much as Panthers teams year after year knew they would dispel the Hornets. Benton reeled off 22 wins in 25 meeting including 13 in a row prior to the current Bryant steak.

And those Hornets teams, when the pressure was on late in a game, had to keep thinking, "Here we go again."

It might not have been the same had Benton converted a point-after touchdown to make it 14-6 instead of 13-6 earlier in the third quarter. The Panthers would’ve still held a lead after the Hornets scored and Bryan booted his PAT.

Ah, the psychology of one point: 14-13 is so much different than 13-13 — especially when there’s deep-down doubt. The pressure builds.

To their credit, the Panthers drove into scoring position behind the passing of senior Bryan Greer. But like they did repeatedly after Benton took its original 7-0 lead, the Bryant defense answered the challenge.

Not counting a one-play, end-of-the-half possession, the Panthers offense had the ball nine times after that first scoring drive. On seven of those possessions, the Panthers either started or drove into Bryant territory. An eighth reached midfield. Benton managed six points, one touchdown, out of all those threats. And it came after the Panthers recovered a Bryant fumble just 27 yards from paydirt.

None of those stops were more dramatic than the last.

The Hornets had stopped the Panthers once already. After gaining their first lead with Bryan’s final field goal, they surrendered one first down to the Panthers. That came on a third-and-10 completion from Greer to Josh Donnelly that reached the Benton 48. On the next play, however, Aaron Johnson maneuvered around a blocker and sacked Greer for a loss of eight. A play later, Brandon St. Pierre intercepted Greer’s third-down pass with 3:33 left to play.

All Bryant needed to do was hang onto the ball and run out the clock. And they appeared to have the initial first down in that attempt when quarterback Lance Parker scrambled for 6 yards to the Bryant 45. But at the end of the run, Parker had the ball ripped from his arms and Benton’s Josh Helton recovered.

Benton was just a few yards away from attempting a tying field goal. But the Panthers never got there. A motion penalty on a third-and-four at the 39 didn’t help the Panthers but two pass plays after that failed largely because of good pressure from the Bryant defensive line and blanket coverage in the secondary.

The Hornets took over on downs and ran out the final :59, capturing the Salt Bowl Trophy for the third year in a row.

"Their first drive, we were real soft up front," noted Bryant defensive coordinator Steve Griffith. "Coach (Brad) Stroud and the defensive line did a heck of a job then on really starting to put a push on and started to get some pressure. That first drive (Benton) was really getting a good push from the line and (Greer) was just back there throwing the football. We did a heck of a job after that of getting some pressure. Those guys responded really well.

"We made a couple of adjustments at halftime with our linebackers, trying to get pieces of their (receivers) that were getting up the seam," Griffith said. "That made a difference in the second half because they had hurt us with those routes. We wanted to hold them up a little bit. A couple of times in the second half, they were looking for seam route but they got held up and when they did we got sacks out of it or (Greer) would turn and try to throw and we got pressure on him.

"Then we came up with some big plays at the end when we needed to," he concluded. "I was real proud of our defense. They gave some ground quite a few times but they got their back bowed up and came on and got it done."

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

error: Content is protected !!