Rivalry between Hornets, Panthers has done a 180

By Rob Patrick

“The Benton Panthers will beat the Bryant Hornets tonight.”

If that statement made you scoff then you can relate to how Saline County football fans felt back in the late ‘80’s and early 90’s when someone said that the Hornets were going to beat the Panthers.

My, how the worm has turned.

In 1991, the Panthers were five games into a 13-year winning streak over their Saline County neighbors. That was part of a 22-3 run that the Panthers made from the beginning of the series in 1974. Benton was the big school in the county back then. Bryant had started growing though.

Going into tonight, the Hornets have won five in a row over the Panthers, part of a 9-2-1 run over the last 11 years. Can the Hornets extend their recent dominance out to match that 13-year streak?

Nothing’s certain, of course, but the numbers indicate they sure could, because even when the rivalry began, there wasn’t as big a disparity in enrollment as there is now, according to Arkansas Activities Association reclassification figures.

In fact, both schools have been growing over the last four AAA cycles. But Bryant’s gone from 1,279 to 1,683. In the same time frame, Benton’s gone from 879 to 1,054. Back near the end of Benton’s dominance (1996-1998 cycle), Bryant was bigger but by less the 200 kids. Even in the cycle in which Bryant finally broke through, the difference was only 917 for Benton and 1,113 for Bryant.

Of course, all that’s ancient history to this year’s players and perhaps merely a curiosity to most others.But it provides something of an insight into why things have turned around in the series.

And there’s this:

By 1996 or so, three key components for the Bryant turnaround were in place, coaches Paul Calley, Steve Griffith and Brad Stroud. They have been the constants during the Bryant football renaissance.

All of which is meant to say:[more]

The Bryant Hornets will beat the Benton Panthers again tonight in the Salt Bowl. Both teams have some nice playmakers. Bryant just has more of them.

The Panthers need something, anything positive to happen. Just getting a fresh start means a lot after a season in which they only won three games and, later, had to forfeit those three because a player was ineligible.

Benton has a lot of players back from last year’s team. They should be better.

The Hornets have few starters back. They’re returning to the spread offense and, on defense, will apparently stray a bit more this season from their traditional base set, a 4-3.Bryant has more speed than its had in years which should be a factor.

Though all of that may not change the results, it could make for a bit more competitive game than there’s been in a few years.

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