Stingy defense, passing game carry Hornets
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
So, you have one team with an offensive line which includes a “small” guy that’s 6-feet, 266 pounds and the big guy that’s 6-4, 303, averaging 285 pounds per man. And you have a defensive line that goes 215, 205, 200 and 205.
So who wins?
With apologies to old Maxwell Smart: Would you believe the defense?
Well-coached and properly executed technique, quickness and want-to can make up for a lot. Case in point: The Bryant Hornets’ undersized — by most standards — defense held the power and option running game of the Catholic High Rockets — featuring that mammoth o-line and, most of the time, a full-house backfield — to a net of just 67 yards rushing and just 7 points in a convincing 35-14 win at Bryant Stadium on Friday, Sept. 21. It was the 7A-Central Conference opener for both teams. Bryant, ranked No. 1 in the state by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, improved to 3-0-1 while the Rockets dropped to 2-2 overall.
That Bryant defensive front — ends Raylen Cantrell (205 pounds) and Nathan Probst (215), tackles Chad England (205) and Brent Smith (200) with help primarily from Spencer Jones (the big guy at 250 pounds), Dexter Barksdale (185) and Nick Chapdelaine (205) — helped the Hornets drop Catholic ball carriers for losses a whopping 14 times. In fact, sophomore quarterback Taylor Bartlett was credited with 17 carries. He netted 0 yards.
And it came despite the continued absence of linebacker Jared Szabad and 2006 leading tackler, safety Logan Cruse, who broke his hand the previous week against Fort Smith Southside.
Cantrell ended up with seven tackles and was credited with his third blocked punt. And that active front enabled middle linebacker Austin Humbard to get in on 11 stops including five for losses and outside linebacker Dylan Chism, subbing for Szabad, 10.
On offense, the Hornets were faced with a blitzing, stunting, risk-taking defense from the Rockets. The object is to create bad plays for the opponent’s offense and force them to guess where the pressure going to be focused and force the other team to make big plays in hopes they can’t or that they’ll get frustrated trying to sustain a drive.
Though the Hornets had a few problems, particularly trying to run the ball, they were up to the task as quarterback Logan Parker completed 26 of 45 passes for 269 yards and four touchdowns, often standing strong in the pocket despite pressure bearing in on him and the subsequent shot.
But, the most impressive thing about Parker’s performance may have been his resilience. After throwing an interception that Catholic’s John Ukadike returned for a touchdown to give his team a 14-7 lead, Parker came back to lead his team on two answering touchdown drives in the final two minutes of the half.
And Bryant may never have had three receivers on the same team that were such legitimate threats. Each of them caught a touchdown pass and Jake Jackson caught two. Jackson had nine receptions for 102 yards, all in the first half. Taylor Masters grabbed eight for 71 yards and Tim Floyd latched onto seven for 103 yards.
“We had a little miscommunication (on the interceptions),” stated Hornets head coach Paul Calley. “We just didn’t get everybody on the same page. Fortunately, Logan’s got a short memory.
“We had to throw the ball,” he added. “They weren’t going to let us run it. They were blowing the run up.
Still, despite the fact that it was often hit or miss, the Hornets wound up with more yardage rushing in less than half the attempts, picking up 87 yards on 19 carries including 67 and a touchdown on 15 totes by Aspen Trevino.
At one point, Calley huddled on the sideline with his offensive line and brought out the marker board.
“With what they were doing, the only chance we had was the veer block on the play side and pull people and kick out,” he explained. “And somebody kept slipping through up the gut and I could never see who it was and nobody could tell me who it was. But somebody was blowing the play up before we could get there. We’ll look at the film and find out but that’s what you’ve got to be able to do if somebody’s blitzing you up the gut. One time, I think, we popped it early.”
That came on a 36-yard run by Trevino on the opening drive of the game, one of the highlights of a 10-play march that covered 83 yards. The Hornets overcame two major penalties along the way. After the second of those, Bryant faced a third-and-goal from the 22 when Parker threw a fade route to Floyd who hauled it in for the game’s first score. Austin Bradley, who has now connected on 14 extra points in a row, made it 7-0.
The game was rolling along after that until the two teams combined for 28 points in the final 3:30 of the half.
Catholic had put together a drive to the Bryant 19 but Austin Humbard dropped Rockets tailback Chris Rose for a loss on second down then England hauled down Bartlett for a loss on third. The Rockets attempted a field goal from 42 yards but Andrew Naeyaert’s kick was short.
The Hornets, in turn, were forced to punt and, starting for their own 45, the Rockets drove for a tying score. A 31-yard pass completion from Bartlett to John Springer got them into scoring position but the Hornets appeared to have the drive stopped when a pass on third-and-14 from the 15 fell incomplete. But pass interference was called and Catholic gained a new set of downs from the 8. Two plays later, Bartlett scored from 10 yards out.
Moments later, Parker’s third-down pass down the seam was picked off by Ukadike and returned for the score that gave Catholic its only lead with 2:09 left in the half.
But, working the clock well and saving their timeouts, the Hornets answered with a six-play, 71-yard drive to tie it back up. Parker scrambled for 26 yards to convert a third down. He then hit Masters for 16 and, after a screen pass was foiled, found Jackson who made a spectacular diving catch just barely inbounds in the right side of the end zone for the 25-yard TD.
Catholic tried to answer with a deep pass on its first play on the subsequent possession but Bryant cornerback Jordan Knight intercepted at the Rockets’ 48 with :55.7 showing.
After an incomplete pass to start the possession, Parker hit six in a row including an eye-popping shot to Jackson who made a leaping catch for the 19-yard touchdown with :03.2 showing.
Bradley kicked it to 21-14 and the Rockets never recovered.
To start the second half, Catholic netted 3 yards before having to punt. With Smith and Cantrell putting pressure, Naeyaert saw that his punt was going to be blocked, so he dropped without even starting his leg forward. He picked it up but was hit and separated from it again. Nathan Lee recovered for Bryant at the Rockets’ 24.
A run for no gain and two incompletions followed, setting up a fourth-and-10. Masters got a step and inside position on a post pattern and Parker hit him in stride for the touchdown that, with Bradley’s kick, made it 28-14.
The Hornets put the finishing touches on the victory with a fourth-quarter touchdown after Ethan Passmore recovered a Rockets fumble at the Bryant 41. Parker and Floyd connected on passes of 26, 7 and 25 yards to get it to the 6. Masters caught a 5-yarder but it took a fourth-down bounce-out run by Trevino, following Humbard and Scott Pilcher, in a power-I formation, to get the points.
It was Pilcher’s first game of the season. The returning starter at guard, has been sidelined with a leg injury suffered in a non-football accident before the season.
Catholic made one last bid to score after Jackson fumbled a punt at the Bryant 46. But Humbard and England brought down Bartlett for a loss of 4 on second down and, a play later, Cantrell sacked the quarterback and the Hornets took over on downs.
The Hornets were set to return to action at Pine Bluff’s Jordan Stadium on Friday, Sept. 28. Bryant has never won at Pine Bluff.