Hornets send another old rival home unhappy
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
When Richie Wood took off to return the second-half kickoff, he sprinted like he knew there was going to be a hole. He had that lean, that stride, that attitude that seemed to say, “Nothing’s going to be in my way and, if it is, it won’t get in my way.”
You’ve seen football players that aren’t sure their teammates are going to clear the way. They hesitate a little, and their run, though still a run by all means, is a little guarded, searching for a hole, preparing for the hit.
There was none of that in Wood’s gallup. And his faith was well-founded, as it turned out. His Bryant Hornets teammates on the kick return team had, indeed, blown a gaping hole through the El Dorado Wildcats’ coverage team just beyond the right hash at about the 30-yard line. And Wood never slowed down after gathering in the kick at the 12-yard line until he was finally knocked down on a touchdown-saving tackle at the El Dorado 23.
Sure, a holding penalty negated about 12 yards of the return — penalties had plagued both teams all evening — but, coming on the heels of a late, long field goal by Todd Bryan in the first half that came on the heels of a forced fumble and recovery by the Bryant defense, Wood’s return kept the Hornets’ momentum surging.
Trailing 10-6, the Hornets coaching staff seized the moment. On first down at the El Dorado 35, junior wide receiver Dustin Holland broke free on a post pattern and junior quarterback Anthony Mask gunned a throw that hit him in stride for a scintillating touchdown play that put the Hornets ahead to stay.
Bryan kicked the extra point and Bryant was on its way to a 20-10 victory over their former AAAAA-South Conference rivals, to improve to 2-0 on the season. The Hornets take that record into their last non-conference game at Russellville on Friday, Sept. 17.
“That was our standard return,” said Hornets head coach Paul Calley of the second-half kickoff. “If we execute — the pass several years we’ve been pretty good returning kicks. We take pride in it and stress it in practice. It sets up a lot of scores for us.
“We had the same thing happen against Benton the previous week,” he reminded. “And we had a play we thought we could score a touchdown on. Last week, we dropped it, this week we caught it. It swung the momentum along with the field goal right before the half and that turnover that the defense forced after we were down there and got sacked.
Indeed, El Dorado had just scored its first-half touchdown on a 3-yard run by tailback J.B. Brazle that capped a 62-yard drive to go up 10-3. Bryant was responding, marching from its own 28 to the El Dorado 10. On a second-and-6, Mask was sacked all the way back to the 22. That was followed by a disputed offensive pass interference penalty that not only cost the Hornets 15 more yards but a down. On a fourth-and-32 from the 36, an incomplete pass gave the ball — and considerable momentum — back to El Dorado.
But the Bryant defense picked up the slack. At the end of a 7-yard run by Brazle, the ball was jarred loose and defensive end Colby Landers recovered at the 43 with 34 seconds left in the half.
An 11-yard completion from Mask to Wood got the ball to the 32. Mask scrambled to the 29 then connected with Zach Kitchens on a 5-yard pass. With no timeouts left, the Hornets lined up for a field goal on third down and Bryan knocked it through from 42 yards away to make it 10-6.
“That gave us a little bit of momentum,” Calley noted. “We came in (at halftime), there wasn’t a lot of yelling or screaming. We just said, ‘Hey, we’re playing well enough, we’re still in the ballgame, let’s go out and win the second half.’”
With the lead in the second half, the Bryant defense bore down on the Wildcats. After surrendering 140 yards of offense in the first half and nine first downs, the Hornets held the Wildcats to a net of just 39 in the second and only two first downs (one of those by penalty).
“At halftime, we talked about going back and reading the keys, things we’d worked on all week, what we felt like they were going to do out of certain formations” said Hornets defensive coordinator Steve Griffith. “And we just challenged the kids to come out with a greater intensity. We did stunt a little bit more in the second half and that made a difference.
“But what really made a difference was that the offense came out and scored to put us in the lead,” Griffith asserted. “Then they scored again to get up 10 and that forced (El Dorado) out of some of the running game they wanted to do and allowed us to get a little stronger pass rush when we weren’t concerned about the run quite as much.”
The defensive effort was crucial in the third quarter. After taking the lead, the Hornets forced a punt but an interception gave the ball right back to El Dorado near midfield. But big stops led by middle linebacker Zach Sanders and strong safety Hunter Nugent forced the Wildcats to punt again.
Bryant took over at its 22 and marched to the El Dorado 17 but another interception kept the Hornets out of the end zone.
Again, however, El Dorado, which gained possession at its own 3 this time, could not muster a first down. A 55-yard punt by Justin Guerin turned the field position over but the Hornets’ offense, given another shot, drove it again and, this time, cashed in. A 12-yard return by Travis Queck helped, then running back Brandon Butler carried four times for 15 yards on the 52-yard drive. Jon Isbell contributed a 12-yard burst and Mask was 3-for-3, hitting Wood for 9 yards early in the march then capping it off with a lofted pass which the 6-3 Wood gathered in for the touchdown with 10:46 left in the game.
El Dorado, in turn, made its most earnest threat of the second half. With the help of a pass interference penalty, the Wildcats reached the Bryant 29 before stalling. Guerin tried a 47-yard field goal and missed wide.
Much to Calley’s frustration, however, the Hornets were unable to grind it out on offense to eat up time. An injury to left tackle Nathan Parsons and leg cramps for his replacement Matt Martin didn’t help. But the Hornets were unable to pick up another first down in the game.
“I was proud of Matt when he went in there,” Calley mentioned. “He fought his guts out, a 185-pound tackle. But he did what he’s asked to do. We started out trying to sprint away from that side but he did a good job and we went back to our five-step game and threw it down the field.”
The defense, however, kept holding steady. Jonathan Holt and made a stop for a loss and Cory Caldwell came through with a third-down sack on El Dorado’s next possession.
After a fumble returned possession to El Dorado with 4:50 to play, Wildcats quarterback John Shepherd attempted four passes and picked up 1 yard.
Butler escaped for 8 yards on Bryant’s subsequent possession but a pair of penalties wiped out gains and the Hornets were forced to punt with 2:13 left.
El Dorado’s last gasp shot ended when Bryan intercepted a pass at the Bryant 24.
“Sometimes we just can’t run the football,” said Calley. “Part of that’s my fault. We had a couple of big penalties. We cannot continue to do that and expect to beat good football teams. Our defense bailed us out time and time again.
Both teams were penalized considerably. El Dorado had nine that cost 75 yards, Bryant 11 for 111 yards.
“But it’s a quality win,” Calley acknowledged. “It wasn’t pretty but I’m proud of the kids for getting it done. (El Dorado) is a young football team but they are talented. That’s the kind of talent we’re going to see in the AAAAA-Central. I hope this gives us a little confidence when we play those athletic teams.”