The stories about the crowd that gathered at C.W. Lewis Stadium in Benton for the final regular-season game in 1999 grow at every recollection. The Hornets completed their first undefeated regular-season, completed a sweep of the AAAAA-South Conference, and ended a long drought against their arch-rivals. In short, it was a great day to be a Hornet. — Rob
Hornets pound Panthers, earn outright crown
By ROB PATRICK
BENTON — Could one football team make up for 13 years of frustration in one night?
Well, the Bryant Hornets gave it their best shot Thursday. Before a record, overflow crowd reported at 11,640 at C.W. Lewis Stadium, the top-ranked Hornets closed out a remarkable 10-0 regular-season with a 42-7 thumping of Saline County rival Benton.
Actually, the crowd may have approached 14,000. At one point, officials stopped allowing people through the entrances so there were fans lining the fences around the stadium and even some perched on the buildings nearby. It was an astonishing scene.
And the Hornets dominated.[more]
The Panthers came into the game riding a 13-year win streak over Bryant teams, but, as they have in a number of ways this season, these Hornets set a new standard. The Bryant victory was only the fourth in the 26-year history of the rivalry. It was the most lopsided of Bryant wins and the 42 points were the most ever scored by a Hornets team against a Panther squad.
All in a days work for this group, the most successful in the history of the Bryant program with the most wins ever, the first AAAAA-South conference championship and just the second trip to the State playoffs.
Still, what a moment it was: To be able to stand on the field of your most intense antagonist over the years and celebrate an undisputed conference championship!
But, as important as Thursday’s triumph was to the team, the school and the community, there are still bigger fish to fry. Those playoffs loom and the Hornets hold the upper hand. Ranked No. 1 by sportswriters and broadcasters around the state, the Hornets are, for all intents, the top seed in the playoffs with homefield advantage from the start right up to the championship game which will be played, as always, at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
The Hornets will open the playoffs this Friday against the fourth-place team from the AAAAA-Central. And, as it turns out, that’ll be a re-match with the Conway Wampus Cats. Bryant opened the season with a confidence-building win at Conway, 30-15. That win was hailed as a landmark but little did anyone know what it foreshadowed. The Hornets have surpassed one accomplishment after another right up to Thursday’s splendid demonstration at Benton.
Their next goal? The program’s first playoff win in its first home playoff game.
Head coach Daryl Patton, who along with assistants Steve Griffith and Joe Calhoun was around for Bryant’s last win over Benton back in 1985, addressed his players after a final walk-through on Thursday afternoon and told them they needed to be at their best from the beginning of their game at Benton and the Hornets followed orders.
The Panthers opened the game with a 17-yard pass completion from sophomore quarterback Blake Carlson to split end Adam Roberson then were stymied by the Bryant defense and forced to punt. (The completion was the only one out of seven attempts by Carlson in the first half.)
A 14-yard return of Brandon Parson’s punt by Matt Brown set up the Hornets’ offense at its own 35. On three of the first four plays, Bryant used pass plays that it hadn’t shown all season. In a trips formation, they sent two men out and had flanker Josh Farmer take a step upfield and look for the ball. Quarterback Derik McCoy, beginning his biggest nights of the season, quickly passed to Farmer who ran to gains of 15, 7 and 13 yards as the Hornets reached the Benton 25.
McCoy, who completed 11 of his first 12 passes, then went deep to Michael Wallace in the right corner for the game’s first touchdown just three minutes into the game.
Wallace, by the way, grabbed a season-high eight receptions in the game for 145 yards.
McCoy finished with 23 completions in 31 attempts for a whopping 354 yards and two touchdowns, eclipsing his 343 yard game on 20 of 44 against Pine Bluff.
The performance gave him, unofficially, 152 completions in 247 attempts (62 percent) for the season, gaining 2,099 yards and 14 touchdowns while only throwing five interceptions. McCoy hasn’t thrown an interception in five games, 144 attempts.
Thursday’s total contributed to 531 yards of total offense by Bryant, 10 yards short of the season-high effort against Pine Bluff.
Leading 6-0, the Hornets forced another punt on Thursday and put together an 80-yard drive in 12 plays, demonstrating impressively that they weren’t just a passing team. While the first TD march came on four pass plays and no runs, the second featured eight running plays with Luke Brown and Matt White flashing through ample holes created by the offensive line.
McCoy included three pass completions including a 13-yarder to Matt Brown for the 6 points on the first play of the second quarter. The duo combined again on a two-point conversion to make it 14-0.
Aided by a holding penalty against Benton, the Hornets defense forced another punt. Another fine return by Matt Brown gave the Bryant offense a short field to work on. The Hornets too were flagged for holding but, unfazed, they converted a second-and-20 on one play, a 21-yard pass from McCoy to Farmer.
Two plays later, Luke Brown wove his way through the Panthers on a 21-yard run to the 3. He scored on the next play. Josh Ault kicked it to 21-0 with 9:38 left in the half.
Benton’s next offensive series ended with a tipped pass that Luke Brown intercepted. Again, the Hornets churned for points, driving 71 yards in 12 plays. They converted a fourth-and-4 at the Benton 28 with an 8-yard pass from McCoy to Wallace. Four plays later, on a fourth-and-goal, White dove in from the 1 to increase the lead further. Ault’s PAT made it 28-0.
Benton managed to get into Bryant territory for the first time on its subsequent possession, reaching the 45. But Dustin Cunningham was dropped for a loss on a second and six by Aaron Mears then Carlson threw incomplete for force the Panthers’ fourth punt of the half with under a minute left.
The Hornets re-established dominance in the second half with an opening drive of 80 yards in nine plays. Luke Brown converted a fourth-and-one at the Bryant 21 with a 3-yard blast. McCoy followed with a 17-yard pass to Matt Brown and, on the next play, White plowed in for his second TD.
Ault kicked it to 35-0.
Bryant put the finishing touches on its scoring early in the fourth quarter with a 69-yard drive that culminated in Luke Brown’s 4-yard touchdown run and Nick Harbert’s extra point.
Benton made its first serious threat after that, driving to the Bryant 25. On first down there, Carlson threw toward Brandon Jacola in the end zone but Bryant’s Nick Black intercepted to protect the shutout.
With completions to Matt Brown and Wallace, McCoy helped dig the Hornets out from the 2 then turned the reins over to junior Jeramie Wooten. With just under seven minutes left in the game, Bryant punted for the first, and only time.
Benton’s cosmetic touchdown came with 1:11 left in the game when Carlson scrambled 16 yards to paydirt, capping a 77-yard drive in nine plays followed a Bryant fumble at the Panthers’ 23.
BRYANT 42, BENTON 7
Score by quarters
BRYANT 6 22 7 7 — 42
Benton 0 0 0 7 — 7
BRYANT — Wallace 25 pass from McCoy (kick failed), 9:07
BRYANT — M.Brown 13 pass from McCoy (M.Brown pass from McCoy), 11:57
BRYANT — L.Brown 3 run (Ault kick), 9:38
BRYANT — White 1 run (Ault kick), 4:13
BRYANT — White 1 run (Ault kick), 7:33
BRYANT — L.Brown 4 run (Harbert kick), 9:14
BENTON — Carlson 16 run (Yarbrough kick), 1:18
First downs 28 14
Rushes-yds. 35-177 40-186
Passing 23-34-0 5-14-2
Passing yds. 354 82
Punts 1-43.0 6-39.7
Fumbles-lost 2-2 0-0
Penalties-yds. 7-73 5-50
Rushing: BRYANT, L.Brown 17-97, White 9-56, Nichols 3-31, McCoy 7-(-7); BENTON, Cunningham 23-96, Carlson 13-75, Reed 2-12, Kurasaki 1-3, Doddridge 1-0.
Passing (C-A-I-Y): BRYANT, McCoy 23-31-0-354, Wooten 0-2-0-0, M.Brown 0-1-0-0; BENTON, Carlson 4-12-2-53, Fugitt 1-2-0-29.
Receiving: BRYANT, Wallace 8-145, Farmer 6-88, M.Brown 6-65, White 2-39; BENTON, Roberson 3-35, Jacola 1-29, Pryor 1-18.