Hornets completely conquer Catholic
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
LITTLE ROCK — When a football program goes a number of years without posting a winning record, it becomes more and more difficult for a team from that program to prove that it is something different — an exception — as the seasons go by. Good starts turn into poor finishes or strong finishes come only after slow starts and the frustrations continue.
Those that follow the game come to expect middling results from the program. Even a big win over a prestige opponent is perceived as a flash in the pan, a lucky shot, a fluke that isn’t lent any particular significance. The next week, it’s expected that the team will fall right back into its old habits.
That’s kind of what the Bryant Hornets are up against this season. It’s the reason that, even on the heels of their season-opening romp over the highly-regarded Conway Wampus Cats, the Hornets were underdogs (according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, at least) going into Friday night’s game against the Little Rock Catholic Rockets at War Memorial Stadium.
Somehow that information found its way onto the Hornets’ locker room door last week. The Hornets were not particularly pleased.
And Friday, the Rockets never had a chance.
For three quarters, the Hornets dominated in every facet of the game, building a 33-7 lead that held as the final after reserves finished up in the fourth quarter.
“We definitely used it,” allowed Bryant head coach Daryl Patton of the prediction. “It was a factor. Our kids were determined. They were fired up and ready to play.
“Our kids believe we’re good,” Patton added. “We’re playing with some intensity, some enthusiasm, determination, some heart.”
The Hornets amassed over 400 yards of offense and limited Catholic to less than 150 while also winning the special teams battle. The Rockets seemed to have poor field position all night long thanks to the Hornets’ efforts.
Sophomore running back Matt White led all rushers with 137 yards on just nine carries, highlighted by a sparkling 75-yard touchdown gallop. Luke Brown added 96 yards on 14 carries.
In the air, Derik McCoy continued his fine passing with an 11-for-18 performance for 139 yards. Junior Jeramie Wooten added three completions in as many attempts in relief of McCoy.
Six different Hornets caught passes, paced by junior Matt Brown with four grabs for 59 yards.
McCoy missed on his first two attempts of the evening but then completed 7-of-9 the rest of the half.
The teams exchanged punts to start the game. For Bryant, Josh Ault unleashed a 51-yarder to turn the field position over. Catholic, backed up to its own 19 managed one first down then was forced to punt again.
This time, the Hornets put together a scoring drive, sparked by a 27-yard run by White that converted a third-and-4 situation. Michael Wallace made a splendid, leaping grab of a McCoy pass for a 17-yard gain that got the Hornets to the Catholic 18.
From there, Luke Brown and the bruising Bryant offensive line, powered it to paydirt in four plays.
Penalties plagued the Hornets a bit. They were flagged 11 times for 60 yards but in the first half, they kept overcoming those brief setbacks. An offsides penalty helped Catholic manage a first down on its next possession but the Hornets squelched the would-be drive at that. Safety Nick Black contributed a nice play to break up a pass play and, a play later, the Rockets were punting again.
Alex Merritt’s kick was fielded by Matt Brown at the 19 and returned to the 25. On the Hornets’ first play there, White turned in his long TD run that featured a pair of nifty open-field cuts and a final block by Wallace that cleared the way to the end zone.
Leading 13-0, the Hornets stepped it up even more on defense on Catholic’s subsequent possession. On first down, halfback Chris White was nailed for a loss by Bobby Winn and Jesse Jones. On second down, halfback Chris Prime was dropped for a loss by Phillip Primm.
The Rockets completed a third-down pass but it was short of first-down yardage and Merritt punted for the fourth time.
This time, the Hornets took over at their own 45. They scored in seven plays, four of which were pass completions by McCoy. The big play was a 36-yard catch-and-run by Matt Brown that converted a third-and-17 play.
From the 11, Luke Brown ran to the 3 and, from there, McCoy hit Matt Brown on a quick slant for the touchdown that made it 19-0.
After a change of quarterback and with their backs to the wall, the Rockets finally got something going on offense at that point. Behind the running of Jeff Mickel, a couple of pass completions by Scott Gallagher and a pair of Bryant penalties, Catholic drove 76 yards in nine plays for its only score of the night. Mickel capped the drive with a nice 15-yard run off tackle.
With the momentum on the Rockets side at that point, the Hornets came through with a big special teams play to regain the advantage. On the ensuing kickoff, Josh Farmer broke a 68-yard return to the Catholic 22.
McCoy completed a pass to sophomore Jonathan Jameson then connected with White from 6-yards out for an answering touchdown.
Because of a missed extra point on their previous touchdown, the Hornets tried for two this time, but came up short, leaving it 26-7 with 1:24 left in the half.
“I thought we played pretty well the first half,” Patton stated. “I thought our running game was pretty good. I thought Luke Brown and Matt White ran hard. I thought Derik threw the ball pretty well. At 26-7 at halftime, that’s where we want to be.”
And the Hornets received the second-half kickoff. They drove to what appeared to be yet another touchdown but McCoy’s 22-yard pass to Matt Brown for the TD was negated by a holding penalty. McCoy was sacked for the only time all game on the next play then another penalty pushed the Hornets back another five yards.
On second and 30 at the 42, McCoy went to the air again but his receiver slipped down and Catholic’s Jeff Pruniski was left alone there to intercept.
It was Bryant’s first turnover of the season in its seventh quarter of play.
Moments later, however, the Hornets had the ball back as senior linebacker Jake Newell jolted the ball loose when he tackled Chris White. Michael McClellan recovered for the Hornets.
Bryant drove to the 12 where a fumbled snap turned a third-and-3 into a fourth-and-4 at the 13. Nick Harbert attempted a 30-yard field goal but just missed wide.
After the Hornets stuffed two running plays on Catholic’s subsequent possession, Jones picked off Neill Linebarier’s pass at the Rockets’ 33. On the next play, Luke Brown blasted into the Catholic secondary, cut to the sideline and scored.
Ault kicked the PAT and the final score was on the board with 1:38 left in the third quarter.
Despite quite a bit of subbing, the Hornets’ defense allowed just three Catholic first downs after that.
A pair of Bryant fumbles sabotaged a pair of drives — one that reached the Catholic 12.
The Rockets’ final possession went backwards. After a loss on first down, sophomores Jason Rose and Andy Summers sacked Gallagher for a loss of 9. After a delay penalty against Catholic, a desperation third-down pass went in and out of the grasp of Bryant’s Chad Zuber, forcing the seventh Catholic punt of the contest.
Bryant took over with 3:41 left and behind the running of Jason McClellan and soph quarterback Cody Graddy behind a primarily sophomore line, the Hornets held onto the ball until time ran out.
“We won the second half, but we didn’t play real well,” Patton said. “Turnovers are something we’ve got to correct. But, on the bright side, we got a lot of kids in there. You can’t do that every week.”
The Hornets are 2-0 for the first time since 1995 when they started the season 4-0 and were ranked in the Associated Press Top 10. They’ll try to take the next step toward matching that start this Friday with their first home game of the season against the Malvern Leopards.