Hornets, Panthers battle to rivalry’s first tie
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
BENTON — The only people that didn’t leave C.W. Lewis Stadium frustrated Friday night were the ones that didn’t care which team won. And it’s hard to imagine many folks like that.
But for those few, it had been a highly entertaining evening as the Bryant Hornets and the Benton Panthers compiled almost 1,000 yards of offense between them while battling to a 34-34 stalemate, the first tie in the 30-year history of their vicious rivalry.
Benton, trying to reverse a four-game losing streak in the series which the Panthers dominated for most of the first 25 years, held the upper hand for much of the game. But Bryant wouldn’t go away. Despite trailing 34-24 going into the fourth quarter, the Hornets rallied to tie with 10 points in the final four minutes of the game. Todd Bryan, who kicked a fourth-quarter field goal to beat Benton in 2002, knocked through a 33-yarder with 1:10 remaining to tie it.
“I was proud of the way our kids hung in there,” stated Hornets head coach Paul Calley. “They could’ve laid down at any time. We had a lot of things go against us late in the third and early in the fourth. But we never did quit.
“There was a lot of adversity,” he continued. “You know, I’m an emotional person and I tried to stay calm throughout the whole thing just so I didn’t lose my head, but there were a lot of things that were upsetting to me because I felt like some of the calls determined the outcome of the ballgame. You hate it anytime it comes down to that and I’m not making excuses. We still had our chances but it’s just hard to overcome some of the things we had to try to overcome. It’s disheartening. I was proud of the kids. We were fatigued towards the end and kept playing just as hard as we could.”
Calley and his staff were unhappy with the officiating, the timing of some calls and the fact that other violations were overlooked. The game was marred by taunting and extra-curricular activities in pile-ups that, for the most part, went unchecked by the officials, who, according to Calley, told the coaches they wanted to “let them play.”
Benton was penalized four times for 16 yards, Bryant five times for 45.
Offensively, the Hornets, who amassed 525 yards of offense unofficially, broke four school records in the game. Senior quarterback Scott Peeler set new marks for completions (37, breaking Jeramie Wooten’s record of 32 set against Benton in 2000) and pass attempts (55, breaking Tadd Farmer’s mark of 52 against Camden Fairview in 1998) in a game, falling just short of the school mark in yardage (501, set by Wooten in that Benton game in 2000) with 477. Senior receiver Zach Cardinal shattered the single-game receptions mark with 16 catches for 176 yards (topping the record of 12 set by Tanner Francis in that game in 1998 against Fairview) while junior Richie Wood set a new standard for single-game yardage receiving. He piled up 189 yards on 10 catches (breaking Francis’ record of 181 yards against Fairview in ’98).
Besides decrying the lack of holding penalties in the trenches all game long — the only holding penalties in the game were downfield on pass plays and they were call ed on Bryant — Calley and his staff, especially after looking at the game tape, were particularly upset with a pair of key calls in the second half.
After closing the gap to 27-24, the Hornets forced Benton to punt. A short kick gave them possession at their own 44 with a chance to take their first lead since 7-0. On a second down, Peeler connected with Wood in the left flat. Wood broke a tackle and raced up the sideline for an apparent touchdown. A flag was thrown on a downfield block (that Bryant disputed), but that was mute because another official ruled that Wood had stepped out of bounds at the Benton 35, negating the touchdown and the penalty inside the 5.
Still, the Hornets had a first down at the Benton 35 and the momentum. On the next play, however, Josh Hendricks intercepted a pass to end the threat.
In turn, Benton drove for another score, aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that cost the Hornets a starting defensive lineman who was ejected after retaliating, as one coach put it, “out of frustration at being held all night.”
On the next play, Bryant’s Ronnie Spivey dropped quarterback Josh Langley for a loss back to the Bryant 26. But, on the next play, Langley, a sophomore who impressed after subbing for senior starter Justin Ray who left the game with leg cramps, just avoided an interception, lacing a pass to Josh Curtis for a 25-yard pickup to the 1. Langley snuck it in from there to make it 34-24.
On the next drive, the Hornets got good field position when David Lister returned a short kick to the 40 and an incidental face mask penalty was tacked on. With Peeler completing 5-of-7 passes along the way, the Hornets drove into the red zone. On a second-and-10 at the Benton 12, Peeler hit Wood who appeared to struggle for a first down. But the ball was marked at the 5, despite Bryant protests.
“I thought we had a first down at the 1-yard line,” Calley said. “We didn’t get forward progress. That hurt us.”
On third-and-3 at the 5, Benton’s Bryson West knifed through to drop Zach Young for a loss of a yard and the Hornets had to settle for a field goal attempt. But a bad snap and/or hold sabotaged Bryan’s attempt from 24 yards out.
Benton took over at the 9 and, behind Langley, drove to midfield where he fumbled with 8:02 left to play. Bryant’s Josh McClellan recovered.
The Hornets responded with a touchdown drive to pull within 3. The drive covered 52 yards in 13 plays, overcoming those two downfield holding penalties. Bryant converted a third-and-6 from the 35 with a 12-yard connection between Peeler and Cardinal. The Hornets faced a fourth-and-3 at the 17 and went for it, converting when Bryan Griffith, subbing for the injured Dustin Holland, made a spectacular diving grab of a Peeler pass at the 11. A play later, Peeler found Cardinal for the touchdown. Bryan booted the PAT to make it 34-31.
And on the very next play from scrimmage, Bryant got the ball back. Spivey crashed in on sophomore running back Justin Wells and literally ripped the ball out of his arms at the Benton 31 with 3:47 left to play.
The Hornets, feeling victory was at hand, took their time driving to the 16. But that’s as close as they could get. A second-down pass into the back corner of the end zone was just inches out of the reach of Blake Zuber. After a third-down try fell incomplete, Bryan came on to kick the tying field goal.
Calley blamed himself for the Hornets not finding paydirt.
“There were some things I should’ve done differently,” he said. “Hindsight, we should’ve gotten the ball in the end zone. That’s my fault. The kids executed the plays I called to the best of their ability. I had a couple of things that we worked on all week in practice that I guess — in the heat of the moment, I didn’t get it done.”
Benton made a bid to win it even after that. A hook-and-ladder play picked up 22 yards to the Bryant 35 with time running out. A motion penalty hurt and, perhaps, so did Langley’s inexperience. With time running out and his team out of timeouts, Langley, back to pass on a third-and-10, scrambled for 7 yards. Time ran out before the Panthers could get their field goal team on the field for what would’ve been a 45-yard attempt.
Benton’s last-second loss to Shiloh Christian in their opener at the Alltel/Hootens.com Kickoff Classic may have had an interesting effect on both teams coming into the game. For the Hornets, especially after rolling to a touchdown with relative ease on their first possession, it may have made them over-confident. For the Panthers, the fourth-quarter proceedings had to give them an alarming sense of déjà vu. But Bryant didn’t remain complacent long and Benton avoided another disasterous finish.
Bryant’s opening score came on a 52-yard pass from Peeler to Wood, capping a 78-yard drive in six plays.
Behind Ray, who completed 9 of 15 passes for 146 yards and rushed for a game-high 94 yards on 11 tries, Benton came right back, scoring on a 49-yard pass from Ray to Josh Brown.
Bryant was driving again when an apparent mix up communicating the play resulted in an interception at the Benton 25 by Zach Teeter.
Benton turned the turnover into points with a 38-yard strike from Ray to Josh Curtis.
In the second quarter, Benton punted Bryant back to its own 6 but the Hornets put together another impressive drive. They reached the Panthers 12 before stalling. Bryan came on to drill a 30-yard field goal to make it 14-10.
In turn, the Bryant defense held on three downs forcing a punt. But a roughing the kicker penalty gave the Panthers new life at the Bryant 46. On first down, Ray pitched to Brown on a reverse. Brown then passed to Jon Chris Roberts behind the Bryant defense for a touchdown to extend the lead. A bad snap on the extra point left it 20-10.
After the two teams traded punts, Bryant covered 80 yards in three plays to cut the margin with 1:57 left in the half. Peeler and Wood combined on the scoring toss, covering 66 yards.
It was 20-17 at the half.
Both teams scored on their first possessions of the second half. Benton’s march was marred by the injury to Ray on a play in which he kept for 15 yards to the Bryant 5. But, with Langley at the helm, the Panthers scored nonetheless on a 5-yard run by Wells.
Bryant’s response was a 67-yard drive in nine plays. Peeler went 6-for-6 along the way, converting a third-and-6 from the 37 with a pass for Holland. A play later, the two combined on a 20-yard gain to the 3. Peeler eventually scored on a 2-yard keeper to cut the margin to 27-24.
That set up the dramatic finish.