Defense keys freshman victory
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
When quarterback Jimi Easterling scored his second touchdown of the game with 1:31 left to play to give the Bryant Hornets freshman team a 20-7 lead, the Conway White Wampus Kittens had been held to a net of just 24 yards of offense. And 19 yards of that came on one play. They had one first down which came during their short scoring drive midway through the first half. The Bryant defense had been so dominant that Conway had lost yardage on seven of its 24 offensive snaps.
But the Junior Hornets’ defenders still learned a good lesson. In what time was left, Conway drove 80 yards (actually, 82 after the Kittens’ eighth lost yardage play started the drive) to cut the lead to 20-13 with enough time left over — 16 seconds — to make it interesting if they could get the ball on the ensuing kickoff.
But the Hornets were able to field the punt and hold on for the win, improving to 3-1 on the season and 1-1 in league play.
“We about tried to give it away at the end,” noted Junior Hornets head coach Jason Hay. “We still haven’t played a four-quarter ball game. We’re getting there but little mistakes, dropped balls, turnovers, a penalty late in the game — that breathes life into a team that’s 0-3. And that’s a pretty good 0-3 team.
“We bounced back well from a loss last week and I thought we did a good job overall,” he added.
The Hornets were coming off a 25-7 loss at Lake Hamilton the previous week. And they came out against Conway White on Thursday, Sept. 21, working at a faster, more aggressive pace which seemed to have its effect. No doubt the enthusiasm was spurred by the fact that the team was playing its first game at home.
“We wanted to change it up a little bit,” Hay noted. “We hadn’t gone no huddle this year. We thought we’d come out and line up. You know, nobody’s seen it so you can put a defense on its heels real quick when you go about 10 or 15 plays in a row. We were trying to wear them out a little bit. We’re finally in shape enough to do that. It takes a lot out of your offense too.”
The Hornets rolled right down the field on that first possession of the game, covering 77 yards in 10 plays. Easterling, who completed 10 of his 11 passes in the game for 86 yards, hit all three during the march including a 14-yarder to Sergio Arias that provided an early spark. Brennan Bullock added a 25-yard run along the way on his way to 67 yards in 15 carries for the game. He also capped the drive with a 1-yard plunge with 4:35 left in the first quarter.
The two teams exchanged punts but a holding penalty and a short punt gave Conway the ball for its second possession just 26 yards away from paydirt. The Kittens’ picked up their only first down of the half when Chris Harris dashed 19 yards to the 7. Two plays later, Harris scored from the 3 and Ben Riner added the extra point to tie it with 5:38 left in the half.
And Conway got the ball right back when Clay Johnson recovered a fumble on Bryant’s first play. That’s when the Hornets defense reasserted itself. From midfield, the Kittens lost a yard with Matt Norton leading the tacklers. On second down, they lost four more when Blake Heil charged through. A third-down pass fell incomplete and Conway punted.
The Hornets couldn’t get much going on offense but, after the defense forced another punt late in the half, Easterling got back in a groove. With :42 left, he led the Hornets to the go-ahead score. A 12-yard completion to Brandon Parish was followed by a 5-yard connection to Arnold and a 15-yard strike to Arias. From the 23, Easterling scrambled and rambled 20 yards to the 3. On the next play, he scored with :06 showing on the clock.
Arias added the PAT and it was 14-7 at the half.
Heil made another tackle for a 12-yard loss to end Conway’s first possession of the second half. The Hornets, with the ball near midfield, failed to convert a fourth-and-1 at the Conway 48 but, moments later, the Kittens, on a fourth-and-1 at the Bryant 41, were stopped as Allan Sloan knifed through to drop quarterback Jordan Cates for a loss.
“Allan almost took the handoff,” noted Hay. “That was a huge stop. They had the momentum and good field position.”
Conway’s next possession lasted one play. The Hornets forced a fumble and recovered it at the Conway 19. Two plays later, however, the Hornets fumbled it back at the 14.
But the Bryant defense didn’t budge again. And they almost picked up a score themselves. On a second-and-10, Cates was back to pass only to be flushed out of the pocket with Bryant’s Brady Butler on his heels. For a moment, Cates dropped into the end zone when Butler hit him but he was able to get back to the 1 before going down. A play later, the Kittens were punting out of their own end zone.
And not only was it a short kick but Bullock returned it 9 yards to the 16 with 3:00 left to play. Though the Hornets lost yardage on first down, Bullock set up the clinching touchdown with runs of 7 and 10 yards to the 1 where Easterling snuck it in.
Conway’s final drive was helped along by an late hit out of bounds after the Kittens’ first and only pass completion of the game. On the next play, Harris walked the tightrope down the left sideline for a 44-yard touchdown run that, by itself, doubled the Conway offensive production in the game.