Adjustments help Mustangs stuff Stingers
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
Traditionally, offensive linemen wear numbers that range from 50 to 79. For instance, the Bryant Junior High Mustangs had No. 65 Mason Binns at tackle last Thursday night when they took on the Sheridan Stingers for Homecoming.
The center was Rhett Neal, No. 69, a new entry into the lineup with previous snapper Patrick McBride (No. 78) moving to the other tackle spot.
But at the guards, there were a couple of guys with numbers in the 40’s. What was up with that?
Well, the previous week, the Conway White Wampus Kittens had handed the Mustangs their first loss of the season and they did it by putting pressure on quarterback B.J. Wood, getting penetration that also thwarted the running game. And they managed that with some quick players on their defensive front.
So, when the Mustangs took the field against the Stingers, there figured to be some adjustments on the offensive line. And there were. Neal was at center and McBride was at tackle. And former running backs Jimmy Roach and eighth-grader Ronnie Thurley were at the guards.
Roach had actually been the Mustangs’ starting running back in a 14-7 win over the Sylvan Hills Bears to open the season. He rushed for a team-high 59 yards on 10 carries in the game. And he started against Conway.
But when head coach Scott Neathery went looking for new linemen, there was Roach.
“He sacrificed being a running back for the team,” Neathery noted, “and I’m glad he did that. I thought Jimmy did a great job.”
In fact, the renovated line performed well across the board as the Mustangs bounced back with almost 300 yards of offense in a 36-16 win.
Wood rushed for 60 yards on seven carries and completed 7 of 10 passes for 129 yards even though his first attempt of the night was intercepted.
And the line wasn’t the only adjustment. Eighth-grader Zach Cardinal started and caught five of Wood’s passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns.
“Zach’s a great athlete,” Neathery noted. “We knew that. It was just one of those things where we had to make some adjustments and we felt like he could do the job.
“I thought Wood did a great job,” added the coach. “When he plays with confidence, he’s a great quarterback. I don’t know if anybody in our league is as good as him throwing. The one he threw an interception on he was trying to throw away. I hate to start out like that but I was glad the way he came back and he answered.
“We concentrated on our quick passing game and that type of stuff,” Neathery said. “The way people are playing us now, they’re playing for the rollouts and that type of stuff. So, we went to the quick game and used a lot more shotgun to maybe give him a little more time to get the ball off. He’s also our second fastest runner. We hadn’t been doing a good job of using his running ability. We had planned to do that at the first of the year but we just kind of got away from it.”
The defense performed well too. Sheridan netted 222 yards of offense but exactly half of that came on two big touchdown plays. The Mustangs, for the most part, shut down the Stingers’ inside running game. Of Sheridan’s 125 yards rushing, 103 came in the fourth quarter after Bryant had established a 30-8 lead.
“We really stressed stopping the inside game,” commented defensive coordinator Terry Harper. “The interior guys did a great job — our two tackles Scott Cox and Jesse Nordman and our middle linebacker Patrick McBride. They did a great job of stuffing that middle and making them pop out. All except for one play, we did a good job of tackling too.”
As Neathery mentioned, the Mustangs didn’t actually get off to a stellar start. On the first play of the game, Sheridan’s Barrett Ratcliff intercepted a pass which gave the Stingers good field position at their own 45.
Then, on the Stingers’ first play, the Mustangs were penalized for lining up offsides.
But, even with a first-and-5 start the Stingers couldn’t muster a first down and the Mustangs forced a punt.
That’s when the Mustang offense got into gear, sparked early by the running of Josh Newell, who muscled for 2 yards to convert a third-and-1 to keep a drive alive that eventually coverted 64 yards in nine plays. The TD came on a 30-yard pass play from Wood to Cardinal.
A try for two failed and that made a difference when the Stingers came back with their first big play. The Mustangs had them locked in a third-and-3 situation at their own 47. Quarterback Zack Whitaker hit running back Mateo Vannucci with a short pass that, in itself, would’ve been well short of a first down. But Vannucci cut back against the grain and streaked 53 yards for a tying touchdown.
Sheridan took an 8-6 lead when Ratcliff ran in the 2-point conversion.
Bryant came right back though after a strong kickoff return by A.J. Nixon that reached the Stingers’ 48. It took 10 plays from there. Wood completed 3 of 4 passes including a 5-yard strike to Andrew Norman for the touchdown.
The same duo combined on a successful 2-point pass which gave the Mustangs the lead for good with 1:31 left in the half.
The back-breaker for Sheridan came soon after that. The Stingers ran some clock while pushing out to their 42 with :16.9 left. After a timeout, they decided to take one shot at another big play. Whitaker again looked for Vannucci, this time downfield.
But the pass was overthrown and Bryant’s Eric Wells not only picked it off but returned all the way to the Sheridan 39. He was pulled out of bounds with :07.1 left, so it turned out to be the Mustangs that would get one last shot.
And they took full advantage.
Wood rolled out and, actually, came within a yard of advancing past the line of scrimmage. He released his pass as he straddled the 40. Sheridan’s defenders, responding to Wood’s apparent decision to run the ball, stepped up and, in the process, left Nixon open behind them. The pass was on target and Nixon scored with :01 left.
A short pass to Brandon St. Pierre and his tackle-breaking run into the end zone provided another success on the 2-point try and Bryant’s lead had suddenly ballooned to 22-8.
The Stingers made a push to close the gap after accepting the second-half kickoff. They reached the Bryant 49 but, on first down there, McBride broke through and dropped Ratcliff for a 3-yard loss and the Stingers were unable to recover. A short pass from Whitaker to Jonathan Mahoney on third-and-11 was completed but Mahoney was swarmed under and the Stingers were forced to punt.
With Wood contributing runs of 11, 11 and 12 yards, the Mustangs drove for another touchdown. Wood’s 28-yard pass to Cardinal put the points on the board on the first play of the fourth quarter. Wood ran for 2 and it was 30-8.
Sheridan’s next possession ended with an interception by Jeff Carpenter.
Moments later, Carpenter latched onto a 15-yard pass from reserve quarterback Brandon Wooten to start Bryant’s final touchdown drive. Brandon Spurr eventually took a pitch from Wooten and skirted left end on a 34-yard run for the touchdown with 3:22 left to play.
With reserves in on defense, Sheridan finally got on the board again with a 58-yard keeper by Whitaker.
After forcing a Bryant punt with 1:15 left, the Stingers made another bid to score. Whitaker broke free again but was pulled down at the Bryant 27 by Mark Pagan. After a pass interference call against the Mustangs prevented the end of the game despite the expiration of time, Whitaker passed to Vannucci in the left flat. Brian Clement dragged down the elusive Stingers’ runner at the 4 to prevent a last-play score.
The Mustangs improved to 2-1 overall with the victory. At 1-1 in the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference, they take a break from league play with a trip to Lake Hamilton this week.