Best effort to date nets Hornets’ 1st league win
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
Funny how a good week of practice can produce a good result on Friday night for a football team.
The Bryant Hornets provided more evidence that such is the case when they cruised to their first AAAAA-Central Conference win, a 41-21 thumping of the Little Rock Catholic Rockets at Bryant Stadium on Friday, Sept. 22.
Everything was clicking for the Hornets at the outset. They rolled to three touchdowns on long drives in their first three possessions on offense. And, on defense, they surrendered just one first down to the Rockets while the lead built up to 20-0.
“That’s the way I want it to work,” stated Hornets head coach Paul Calley. “We weren’t moving as quickly on offense as I wanted to, but we were executing and that’s what we concentrated on in practice this week. I cut the running game down, we cut the passing game down and we worked on certain things instead of working on everything. We worked on what gave us trouble. A lot of it, we just went back to the old stuff, some of the things we hadn’t even worked on very much. We finally executed on offense.
“(Catholic) showed us a lot of different looks, but the offensive line picked it up,” he noted. “Our receivers caught the ball well and Scott threw the ball well. We ran the offense, took what they were giving us and we scored when we got down there. That’s the big thing, getting the ball in the end zone.”
The Rockets primarily put several defenders back in coverage but they left a cushion for the Hornets’ receivers to work with. Peeler picked them apart, completing 13 of 17 passes during those first three marches including a pair of touchdown strikes to Zach Cardinal.
For the game, the Peeler hit 25-of-32 passes for 314 yards, his third game of more than 300 yards passing. He and Cardinal, who caught 12 passes for 168 yards, teamed up four times for scores, a school record, breaking the mark set by Tanner Francis against Catholic in 1998. It’s the fifth single-game school passing mark the Hornets have set this season already.
“When (a defense) plays off our receivers, we’re going to take the short stuff,” Calley stated. “If you come up and play us tight, then we’ve got to go long. We can do it either way. One time we forced the ball long to Richie (Wood) and he just went up and made a great catch.”
That play came on the first drive, an 82-yard sojourn on seven plays. The Hornets faced a second-and-15 at the Catholic 38 when Peeler found Wood deep down the right side. The 6-3 Wood went up to snatch the ball away from a nearby defender for a 32-yard pickup. On the next play, David Lister rumbled in for the touchdown.
Lister and the Hornets ground game was effective too. The senior running back accounted for 64 yards on just 10 carries. He picked up 23 of that on three tries during Bryant’s second possession, a 57 yard drive to paydirt in nine plays, capped by Peeler’s 10-yard strike to Cardinal.
Todd Bryan, out of action at cornerback and receiver due to a shoulder injury, nonetheless kicked effectively for the Hornets, though his try after the second TD hit the left upright. He was on target otherwise.
On the first play of the second quarter, the Hornets were punted back to their own 8 but that didn’t slow them down. They scored anyway, covering the 82 yards in 11 plays and despite an ineligible receiver downfield penalty when they had reached the 11. But Peeler and Cardinal teamed up again on consecutive passes, the second got the points from 11 yards out. Bryan booted it to 20-0.
In turn, the Hornets defense limited Catholic to 4 yards, forcing the Rockets’ third punt.
But on Bryant’s first play from its own 44, there was a mixup on a rushed reverse play and the ball hit the ground. Chris Koehler recovered for Catholic and the resulting possession produced the Rockets’ only points of the first half.
“Our defense played great tonight,” Calley asserted. “They shut them down the first three drives of the game and gave us momentum. We got those first three scores. Then I killed it. We were up 20-0, got the ball back, had all the momentum and I called a reverse. We fumbled it, (Catholic) gets it, goes in and scores. I kick myself. We could’ve had it in hand but that comes with paying attention in practice and knowing what’s going on and coach being smart enough that, if it’s not a good situation, don’t call the play.”
The Rockets covered 39 yards on six plays. Kyle Stroud who rushed for 132 yards on 21 carries in the game, scored on a 15-yard run.
And when Bryant was forced to punt for the first time on its next possession, Catholic looked like it might be on the comeback trail. The Rockets picked up a pair of first downs and reached the Bryant 40. But when quarterback Steven Head tried to convert a second-and-8 there, his pass down the right side was intercepted. Bryant cornerback Bo Lee timed it perfectly and picked off the pass in stride, returning it 69 yards for a touchdown that pulled the rug out from under the Rockets.
“I knew they just needed short yardage for a first down,” Lee recalled afterwards. “So, I maybe tightened my coverage down a yard or two. The guy just ran a five-yard stop and I just saw it coming a mile off, broke on it, caught it and the only thing I thought next was, ‘Don’t get tackled, just keep running.’”
A sack by Andrew Hughes to end the half, stopped a Catholic drive that had nearly reached midfield.
The defense stepped up early in the second half, as well. The Rockets got the ball first and a good return by Ryan Bettis put the offense on the field at its own 40. Two plays later, however, Head optioned left to try to convert a third-and-8. Bryant safety Travis Queck charged in, hit Head in the backfield, jarred the ball loose and recovered it to give Bryant possession at the 36.
Four plays later, Cardinal pulled down a Peeler pass for an 11-yard TD. The score was set up by a 13-yard burst by Lister. It was 34-7 after Bryan’s PAT.
After the two teams exchanged punts, they exchanged touchdowns. Catholic’s 65-yard drive was in jeopardy on a fourth-and-7 at the Bryant 30 but Head completed a 24-yard pass to Derek Villemez to convert and set up the score. Still, it took four tries to pick up the 6 yards. Stroud finally dove in from the 1 on a fourth-down play with 11:09 left in the game. Walter Lusk’s PAT made it 34-14.
Peeler went 5-for-5 on an answering drive to clinch the victory. Wood, Lister and Bryan Griffith each pulled down passes before Cardinal hauled in a 31-yarder to the Catholic 38. The play went to the outside and set up a post pattern down the middle on the next play. Cardinal speared Peeler’s toss in mid-stride and sprinted past the scattered Rocket secondary for the touchdown. Bryan kicked it to 41-14 and the Hornets began to get reserves into the game.
In three possessions in the final 8:13, Catholic amassed half of its offense (162 of 326 yards). The first drive stalled at the Bryant 14 when back-up quarterback Justin Pierce had three consecutive passes fall incomplete.
The Rockets scored after forcing a punt. Pierce threw to Danny Koehler for a 12-yard touchdown with :21 left to set the final score.