Mustangs hold off Junior Bears
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
SHERWOOD — After the Bryant Junior High Mustangs’ scrimmages in their annual preseason jamboree, head coach Scott Neathery expressed particular concern for his team’s secondary. He chided himself when he mentioned that the secondary coach was going to have to pick it up a little. Neathery, himself, guides the Mustangs’ secondary, you see.
Well, judging by the results of Thursday’s season-opening game against the Sylvan Hills Junior Bears, the coach — and his players — put in the work and the whole team benefited.
The Mustangs’ secondary intercepted four passes, three in the second half, to help preserve a 14-7 victory over the Bears at Sylvan Hills.
“I am proud of them,” Neathery allowed. “We worked hard on the secondary this week and I am proud of that. The defense wins ballgames and it won the game for us tonight.”
Neathery noted that the pressure put on Sylvan Hills’ quarterback Colby Sanders by the Mustangs’ front four certainly had a role in the secondary’s success, as well.
The Mustangs scored all of their points in the first quarter, cashing in on two of their first three drives. Their game-opening march was impressive. In fact, on the very first play, quarterback B.J. Wood and flanker Brandon St. Pierre connected on a 51-yard pass play that set up the first score.
In two runs, fullback Jimmy Roach crashed to the 10 and, after a motion penalty moved the Mustangs back, Wood rolled to his right and passed to Andrew Norman for the score.
Wood passed to St. Pierre for the two point conversion and the stunned Bears were down 8-0 with the game just barely two minutes old.
Bryant’s first interception came on Sylvan Hills’ second play from scrimmage when Roach picked off a Sanders pass and returned it to the Bears’ 45.
On the next play, however, the Mustangs lost the handle, the first of their five fumbles (three of which they lost).
But, on its way to limiting Sylvan Hills to a net of just 30 yards of total offense in the first half, the Mustangs stuffed the Bears on three plays. Roach, a linebacker on defense, dropped Sanders for a loss of 2 on a second and 9 then Sanders threw incomplete on third down to set up a punting situation.
But a bad snap on the punt forced Justin Franco to scramble. Bryants’ Josh White and Dennis Jewell converged and dropped him for a 20 yard loss.
That set up Bryant’s second score.
Roach rumbled for 9 yards then Wood kept for 11 but the play was nullified by a holding penalty. Undaunted, the Mustangs made up the lost ground. St. Pierre picked up 7 on sweep then Wood connected with Norman again on a 17-yard pass to the Sylvan Hills 12.
A swing pass from Wood to Roach reached the 5 and, on the next play, Roach bulled in for the touchdown.
A try for two failed but the Mustangs looked dominant at that point.
But the Bryant offense struggled after that. Sylvan Hills’ blitzes started getting to Wood. The rest of the way, Wood was sacked five times and, after completing his first four passes, missed all three he was able to get away after that.
Sylvan Hills managed its initial first down near the end of the first quarter but, on the next play, Sanders fumbled and White recovered for the Mustangs.
But a bad snap on a quarterback draw out of the shotgun spoiled Bryant’s next play and Sylvan Hills’ Chase Campbell got the ball back at the Mustangs’ 35 — the Bears best field position of the game to that point.
Jewell and Scott Cox stopped Bears fullback Chad Brown for no gain on first down but an offsides penalty against the Mustangs on second down moved the ball to the 30.
There, however, Patrick McBride and Jeff Carpenter cut down Sylvan Hills’ Michael Rivera for no game.
On third down, Sanders tried to go to the air but McBride and White sacked him at the 34.
A fourth-down swing pass was then foiled by Carpenter and Norman as the Mustangs got the ball back.
Bryant was forced to punt, however, and, in turn, Sylvan Hills was able to put together its lone scoring drive just before the half. Starting at the Bryant 47, the Bears scored in seven plays. The key moment came with :45 left. On a fourth-and-1 at the 38, Sanders sneaked for a first down. A play later, he found Franco for a 22-yard pass completion that set up Brown’s 12-yard touchdown run with :25 left.
Cary Gilbert kicked the extra point and the score that proved to be the final was on the board.
The Bryant offense sputtered for most of the second half. Until their final possession, the Mustangs netted just minus-2 yards of offense after the break. They punted twice and turned the ball over on a third possession.
“I think it was just a case of getting up early and just kind of letting our guard down,” Neathery said. “We didn’t execute after we got up. In the first quarter, I thought we did well offensively. We looked good. We moved down the field and executed. But for three quarters, we didn’t execute offensively. (Sylvan Hills) did the same thing to us that they did early on. It’s just execution.
“I think we’re still out of shape,” he added. “We’re not in game-shape yet. We had some people dragging around. That’s my fault and I can correct that this week.
“But defensively, I was proud of the way the guys played and we did what we had to do to win the ballgame.”
Indeed, Sylvan Hills picked up its second first down of the game on the first play of the second half then went backwards as Kitchens and Jesse Nordman made stops for lost yardage before the Bears turned the ball over on downs.
After Bryant’s A.J. Nixon punted them back to the 4, Brown rumbled for 20 yards to start a drive to the Sylvan Hills 39 where the Bears stalled again. They tried a fake punt with Franco attempting a pass but St. Pierre intercepted at the Bryant 39.
Bryant lost the ball on a fumble as the fourth quarter began, but the defense got it back when St. Pierre picked off another aerial at the 2 and returned it to the 11.
Another Bryant punt gave Sylvan Hills one last chance with 3:42 left to play just 34 yards away from a tying score.
But White and Nordman pulled down Rivera for a loss of 3 then, scrambling away from pressure, Sanders overthrew Franco who was open down the left sideline inside the Bryant 10.
On third down, the Mustangs’ Andrew Devasher came up with the fourth interception of the night to with 2:13 to play.
And, with the game on the line, the Bryant offense stepped up too. Despite a motion penalty that made it first-and-15 at their own 16, the Mustangs, while using all of the 25-second clock on each snap, managed to run out the clock with a pair of key first downs.
The key play came on third-and-7 at the 24 when Wood — at that point, with a net of minus-31 yards rushing (thanks to the sacks) — broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage on an option keeper and surged for 8 yards and a first down with just over a minute left to play.
Roach broke for 19 on the next snap and the Mustangs’ victory was secured.
In the eighth grade game, the Mustangs romped 30-0.
Bryant opens Central Arkansas Junior High Conference play this Thursday in their home opener against Conway White.