Hornets buzz by Yellowjackets
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
For those concerned about the Bryant Hornets’ defense in 2008, consider this:
On Friday, Sept. 12, the Sheridan Yellowjackets’ offense picked up 15 yards on its first snap and 54 on a flea-flicker midway through the first quarter — 69 yards in two plays — and, at the end of the game, their net total offense was 64 yards.
And that doesn’t count the seven penalties that cost them 90 yards nor the seven Bryant penalties that gave them 76 back.
Even with reserves playing late in their 35-0 win, the Hornets forced 13 lost-yardage plays in the game.
Granted, with all due respect to Sheridan and, the previous week’s opponent, Benton, the Hornets have yet to face a team of the caliber they’ll be challenged with in the 7A-Central Conference, but fans, coaches and players have to be encouraged about a defense with that has just two players starting where they started last season and only two others that started at all last season.
One of those players, safety Dijon Benton, also contributed his fourth interception of the young season, returning it for a touchdown on the second play of the game. It was his second return for points.
And Benton also had a hand in the splendid play of the Hornets’ special teams, a facet of the team that most figured would be a strength. Not only did the Hornets block a field goal, courtesy of Benton, and a punt, courtesy of Nathan Lee, which set up a touchdown, they got perfection from placekicker Austin Bradley on extra points plus a solid effort on coverage.
Then, there’s the secret weapon. It’s hard to imagine that, in the swirling winds at War Memorial Stadium in the Hurricane Gustav Salt Bowl on Tuesday, Sept. 2, punter Austin Humbard could average over 55 yards a punt; harder still to imagine that he would do better in the Buzz Bowl against the Yellowjackets. But he did. Humbard averaged 56 yards a kick including a 61-yarder.
That means field position, and the Hornets started five of their 10 possessions in Sheridan territory, only once in the game, starting inside their own 35.
Offensively, the Hornets continued to show they could run the football, piling up 184 yards and four touchdowns, two each from Chris Rycraw and Aspen Trevino. Rycraw, who rushed for 130 yards and four scores against Benton, went for 101 on just 15 tries before going to the bench with the rest of the starters late in the third quarter.
“Our defense played really well,” acknowledged Hornets head coach Paul Calley. “I told the kids before we went out, the first quarter we’re going to get a score either on special teams or on defense. We got the defensive touchdown in the first quarter then one on special teams in the second.”
Actually, the special teams set up a touchdown. In fact, that may have been the proverbial straw the broke the Yellowjackets’ back. Bryant held a not-quite-comfortable 14-0 lead going into the final minute of the half. The defense, thanks in large part to a sack of Sheridan quarterback Eric Eggburn by Shawn Burchfield, forced the Jackets to punt with just under 20 seconds to play. Lee crashed in and blocked the kick and Benton scooped up the ricochet and returned it to the 2. From there, Rycraw scored with :08 on the clock and Bradley kicked it to 21-0 going into the half.
“I can’t say enough about the special teams and the defense,” Calley reiterated. “But we can’t rely on special teams and defense solely the rest of the year.
“I thought we could line up and run it at them,” he added, turning to his offense. “We had some things we needed to work on and we did that. We saw what we needed to see. But we can’t rely just on the running game. We’ve got to be able to throw the football.”
The game was played on a wet field after a downpour beforehand that included a delay due to a nearby lightning strike. Passes were dropped by receivers and others were off target as three quarterbacks combined to go 8 of 19 passing for 82 yards for the Hornets. Junior starter Jimi Easterling hit 6 of 15 for 57 yards.
It’s a strange situation for a program that turned around its fortunes 10 years ago and since, relying on the passing game. In fact, the Hornets don’t have a touchdown pass two games into the season and theat may be a first in that time.
“I wasn’t pleased with our passing game at all,” Calley asserted. “We’ve got to get better. We practice and we practice and we practice and we’re going to have to keep practicing and we’re going to have to get better.”
And he wouldn’t blame the conditions. “You saw us play Central in 2004 out here in conditions a lot worse than tonight and we threw and caught 37, 38 passes,” he reminded. “Conditions are not an excuse. They weren’t tonight. We’ve played in it before.”
It didn’t help that the Hornets lost their top returning receiver Tim Floyd early in the game to a concussion.
One of the completions came at a good time in the first half, however. Leading 7-0 on Benton’s 39-yard interception return, the Hornets had not been able to take advantage of a couple of other good opportunities set up by their special teams including the blocked field goal. After a short punt from Sheridan, the offense took possession at its own 35 with 1:42 left in the first quarter and, despite a pair of holding penalties, along the way, drove to paydirt in 13 plays. They converted a pair of third-down plays en route including a third-and-7 from the 38 on a 13-yard pass from Easterling to Brandon Parish.
Easterling appeared to score on a 14-yard run but a holding penalty negated the score. Two plays later, however, Trevino stepped into the end zone for the points.
Sheridan threatened to answer when, after being forced to punt, the Yellowjackets pounced on a muff on the return at the Bryant 39. A play later, safety Chris Brooks made a key play on a lateral from Eggburn to Brady Bone, stopping it for a loss. A personal foul penalty — one of several in the game — cost the Hornets 15 yards, however, and gave Sheridan a first down at the 22, as close as they would get to scoring.
Two incompletions followed then a bad snap in the shotgun cost the Jackets 16 yards. On a fourth-down play, linebacker Dylan Chism knocked a pass away from Bone and the Hornets took over.
Bryant drove to the Sheridan 32 but ran out of downs, turning the ball over to the Jackets with 1:12 left to play in the half, in advance of the blocked punt in the final seconds.
The Hornets put the sportsmanship or “mercy” rule in effect by driving for touchdowns on their first two possessions of the second half.
A good return of the second-half kickoff by Logan Garland set the Hornets up at their own 42 and Calley, who was determined to work on the passing game before the contest, had Easterling go to the air right away. The 19-yard completion to Chris Arnold was a good start. Two plays later, however, Bryant faced a third-and-7. But Easterling hooked up with Parish again for a 20-yard gain to the 16. Though they gained the first down with the play, most of the yardage was negated by a dead-ball personal foul. From the 31, Easterling scrambled for 9 yards and Sheridan returned the favor with a personal foul that pushed the ball to the 11. Another keeper by the quarterback reached the 1 and, from there, Rycraw sliced past a pair of Sheridan defenders for the score.
In turn, Sheridan started at its 26 and wound up punting from its own 5 because of a holding penalty and an intentional grounding mark-off when Burchfield, Josh Hampton, Humbard and others pressured quarterback Nick Mote.
A short punt out of the end zone gave Bryant possession at the Jackets 22 and, on three runs by Trevino, the Hornets found paydirt one last time. The senior running back scored from the 10 with 6:39 left to play in the third quarter and when Bradley added the extra point, the mercy rule was in affect the rest of the game and Bryant began to sift in reserves.
In the final quarter, senior Reuben Ballard contributed some nice runs on offense and sophomore quarterback Caleb Milam completed a 23-yard pass to Garrett Bock. The Hornets reached the Sheridan 2 but a fumble on third down cost them a chance to add to the advantage.
Defensively, junior linebacker Trey Sowell made some nice plays along with Blake Heil, Ryan Cox, Kaleb Burns and Dustin Grimmett.
Now 2-0 on the season, the Hornets hit the road for the first time this Friday. They’ll face their sternest test of the season to date against two-time defending Class 6A state champion, Texarkana.