Hornets spot Leopards a TD then buzz by 37-21
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
MALVERN — When you think about the Malvern Leopards football program, the first thing that comes to mind is tailbacks. They’ve had Madre Hill and Harold Harris — both now totin’ the ‘skin for the Arkansas Razorbacks — and, well, it seemed that every year there was someone else back there running their toss sweep and breaking big plays.
And this season, the Leopards appeared to have another durable, quick tailback in move-in Myron Griffin. Though the cast around him might not have been up to the Leopards’ past standards, still, there was the renowned Malvern I-formation, the toss sweep, the fullback blast and the wingback trap on the film of the team’s first two games, losses to Springdale and Benton.
But, in the week prior to Malvern’s home opener against the Bryant Hornets, Griffin left the team, apparently intent on moving back to Benton (one parent lives in one town, the another in the other). And, instead of the old, standard I, the Leopards unveiled a double-wing alignment (think Kenny Hatfield’s flexbone at Arkansas) with no tailback at all.
“They didn’t surprise us,” said Bryant head coach Daryl Patton, “but it was something new.”
The Leopards, using wingback motion to run a power off-tackle play with wings Curtis Simmons and Chris Adams, marched 62 yards on eight plays to a game-opening score. Quarterback Brian Hembree passed 29 yards to Michael Berry for the touchdown, the only pass of the drive.
“We were kind of lethargic,” Patton said, describing his defense.
While coordinator Steve Griffith and the defensive staff worked quickly on adjustments, the Hornets’ offense struck back immediately. Senior fullback Jacky Brown, an unexpected starter, blasted off right tackle and raced 64 yards for a tying TD on Bryant’s very first play from scrimmage to tie it.
The defense, adjustments made, put the stops on the Leopards when it counted the rest of the way and Bryant rolled to a 37-7 lead before settling for a 37-21 victory, their second in a row heading into AAAAA-South Conference play.
“It was a couple of things we’d already seen,” Griffith said of the Malvern attack, which was quite similar to what Little Rock Catholic ran the previous week. “We just had the kids stop and think a little bit about what in the world we’re supposed to be doing, not panicking or anything. Realizing it was something they’d seen. Just kind of changing gears and getting in our minds that we had to just stay on them, play good technique and, above all, make tackles. We were in our base defense and we started adding some stunts when we saw what they were doing.”
“It was very big, coming back and scoring in one play,” Patton noted. “That got us fired up, got us back in the right frame of mind and, I thought, the defense played great after that.”
Tadd Farmer threw three more touchdown passes, giving him 10 in the first three games. He was 13-of-26, not up to the 71 percent rate (20-of-28) of the previous week but, for that, Patton credited Malvern’s aggressive coverage.
“(Malvern) was coming up playing tight, bump-and-run, man(-to-man),” Patton noted. “Anytime you’re seeing that, you’re going to have some big plays but it’s going to disrupt some things sometimes too. It disrupted us at times — we missed a few passes by inches — but it opened up the running game and we also had some big plays because of it.”
In addition, it cost Malvern in other ways. The Leopards were flagged four times for pass interference, part of a 10-penalty game that cost them 109 yards.
As for the running game, both Jacky Brown and Billy Landers eclipsed the 100-yard mark. Brown, in limited action, picked up 101 yards on nine carries while Landers amassed 104 yards on 12 tries.
It may have been a landmark game — if such records have been accounted for somewhere (no one’s found them yet) — in that the Hornets had three successful field-goal attempts. Patton recruited three soccer players to join the team to kick prior to the season and, against Malvern, saw those efforts rewarded as junior Josh Ault booted field goals of 31 and 20 yards in the first half and sophomore Nick Harbert add a 23-yarder in the third quarter.
“I don’t remember the last time we kicked three field goals in a game,” Patton considered.
Ault’s first three-pointer gave the Hornets the lead for good. It capped a drive in which Bryant moved from its own 24 to the Malvern 14 just before the end of the first quarter. The drive got its opening impetus from the running game, helped along by Malvern’s first pass-interference infraction, then a couple of pass completions that set up the field goal.
The first of two pass interceptions by the Hornets ended Malvern’s next drive. Safety Josh Farmer, closing quickly, picked off a pass that appeared to be right on target as Simmons streaked down the hash behind the Bryant secondary.
After an exchange of punts, the Hornets put together another touchdown drive. This one covered 79 yards in eight plays. A 24-yard run by Landers and another interference call highlighted the drive. Matt Brown, who made a key catch for 13 yards to convert a third-down earlier in the march, scored the touchdown on a 14-yard strike from Farmer.
The Hornet defense bottled up Malvern again. Linebacker Travis Lawhon knocked down a third-down pass attempt by Hembree to force a punting situation.
In turn, the Hornets put together a quick-strike blitz to another touchdown. A 25-yard connection from Farmer to Brown got things going, then Landers broke a 30-yard run on a draw play that helped set up an 18-yard touchdown pass from Farmer to Tanner Francis.
Ault’s extra point made it 24-7.
And Bryant got the ball right back when strong safety Bobby Winn picked off a pass from Hembree, who had to throw under pressure from the Bryant defensive line. Winn returned to the 38 with 1:28 left in the half.
A 20-yard pass from Farmer to Landers got the Hornets in scoring position and they got to the 1. But a procedure penalty pushed them back. Three plays later with just :05 left on the clock, Ault kicked his second field goal to make it 27-7.
As they had the previous week against Catholic, the Hornets opened the second half with a touchdown to add to their lead. A good return of the opening kickoff by Winn set the stage. Jacky Brown’s 9-yard run on a fourth-and-1 at the Malvern 39 kept the drive going then Farmer and Landers combined on the touchdown pass that covered 12 yards.
Malvern couldn’t manage a first down in the third quarter and Bryant, late in the period, made it a 37-7 game on Harbert’s field goal following a short drive that was set up by Matt Brown’s 14-yard punt return of a short Malvern kick.
With Patton mixing in some younger players, Malvern put together a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives to make the final score somewhat more respectable. Fullback Cordale Green scored on a 2-yard plunge with 8:05 left, then on a 1-yard dive with 4:12 to go.
“We did a lot of good things,” Patton stated. “We’ve still got a lot of things we need to work on. We got a lot of young kids some experience, some playing time. They’re our pups. We’ve got to get them ready for the future.
“I’m proud of the team,” added the coach. “We’re 2-1 in non-conference. Now, we’re going into our real season and I’m excited about the future for this team. I think we’ve got the chance to do some things.”
The Hornets travel to Sheridan this week.