Hornets rally to 20-19 win over Jackets
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
The best thing about the Bryant Hornets’ 20-19 win over the Sheridan Yellowjackets didn’t have anything to do with revenge. Sure, the Hornets wanted to get Sheridan back for a devastating 7-3 loss last year but those feelings melted away as the game — the war, as Bryant head coach Daryl Patton called it — unfolded.
And this is not to underplay the importance of winning your AAAAA-South Conference opener or defeating a long-time rival (the win evened the series at 14 wins each since 1971) or providing the impetus for a Top 10 ranking by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and (for the second week in row) the Associated Press.
Nor should it trivialize the fact that this is just the third Bryant team in the last 30 years to start a season 4-0.
But the most impressive thing was that every time the Hornets had to make a play — had to come through — particularly in the second half, they stepped up and made it happen.
It started when the Hornets found themselves in their deepest hole of the season. Sheridan had just scored two quick touchdowns to take a 19-7 lead late in the first half. The first of those two followed an interception. Sheridan capitalized with a 33-yard drive in eight plays. The second was a result of a bad snap that Sheridan’s Robert Pilkington picked up and ran in from 16 yards out.
It was the largest deficit the Hornets had faced all season but they responded with lightening. In four plays — three of them passes to three different receivers — they flew 73 yards for an answering score. Quarterback Derik McCoy, who completed 9 of 14 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the contest, hit Jonathan Jameson with a 14-yard TD strike to make it 19-14.
The rest of the way, the Hornets had no more turnovers and Sheridan’s offense was unable to penetrate the Bryant 20.
The Hornets defense has now allowed just 8 second-half points all season. Not since the opener at Conway has any Bryant opponent scored after halftime.
“We had some adversity thrown our way,” noted Patton. “Some of it we brought on ourselves, some of it was just Sheridan making some plays and us not making plays. But I was proud of the kids for fighting back.
“I thought our defense grew up and bowed up in the second half,” he added. “I mean, shut them down and enabled the offense to hit a few big plays here and there and put some points on the board. Not a lot, but enough to pull it out.”
Not that the rugged Yellowjackets went away, of course. After Bryant cut into the lead, the Jackets drove into Bryant territory. But once they got to the 42, the Hornets put a halt to the drive. Linebacker Luke Brown knocked down a pass, tackle Shawn Reynolds knifed in to drop Sheridan fullback Stephen Geary for a loss of a yard and a third-down pass fell incomplete forcing a punt with 1:01 left in the half.
More adversity struck the Hornets just before halftime, however, when Brown injured his shoulder. The two-way starter who, for the second game in a row, ran for a touchdown on Bryant’s very first play from scrimmage — this time on an 80-yard gallop — returned only briefly in the second half.
Sophomore Matt White stepped in to start the second half and wound up with 120 yards on 23 carries for the game. His three straight runs to start the third quarter picked up a first down then Patton reached into his bag of tricks.
With wide receiver Matt Brown in the backfield, McCoy and the team came to the line of scrimmage, as usual, without a huddle. McCoy looked to the sideline for a signal from Patton indicating which play to run. Only this time, he acted like he didn’t understand Patton’s waggles and came trotting toward the sideline as if to ask his coach.
As McCoy came toward the sideline, the ball was snapped to Matt Brown. McCoy, all of a sudden, turned up the sideline much to the surprise of the Sheridan defenders. No one covered him. He caught Brown’s pass in stride, turning it into a 62-yard touchdown play — apparently.
Unfortunately, the side judge had thrown a flag, ruling that McCoy had not stayed parallel to the line of scrimmage and thus, was illegally in motion. (Film of the play later indicated otherwise.)
The penalty moved the Hornets back five yards and the team was sidetracked for awhile. A play later, White was caught for a loss of seven yards and Bryant was forced to punt.
And a snafu on the punt snap could have been disastrous. But Josh Ault kept cool and got the kick away. It was a short one, though, and Sheridan took over at the Bryant 44.
The Jackets’ plans to extend their lead were dashed by the Hornets. On second down, Bobby Winn crashed through and dropped Andrew Jackson for a four-yard loss to set up a third-and-11. A nine-yard pass from Jonathan Duck to Lance Smith made it fourth-and-two at the 36.
Sheridan went for it but, led by tackle Patrick Defoe who submarined through, the Hornets knocked Geary back and took over.
Whatever momentum that brought back to Bryant, however, seemed to disappear with a motion penalty and when McCoy was sacked back to the 27.
What followed may have been the absolute turning point in the contest. McCoy found Josh Farmer, who swung out of the backfield down the right side, for a 29-yard pass completion that converted the third-and-20 hole.
White followed with a 27-yard burst that had a five-yard face mask penalty tacked on to get the Hornets to the 19.
On the next play, McCoy checked out of a quarterback draw play after noticing tight single coverage on Matt Brown and signs of a Sheridan blitz. Brown ran a fade pattern and McCoy, with safety Jason Winston bearing down on him, found Brown in the left corner of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.
A try for two failed but the Hornets had erased the 12-point deficit to take a 20-19 lead with 3:59 left in the third quarter.
To their credit, the Yellowjackets answered with a hard-nosed bid to regain the advantage. And they had to start it at their own 14 after Winn cut down Smith there on the kickoff.
But behind Geary and Junior Warrick — and with an 18-yard pass from Duck to Smith mixed in — Sheridan pounded to the Bryant 26 where it faced a fourth-and-one with 9:12 left in the game.
After a timeout, the Jackets appeared to get the first on a three-yard plunge by Geary, but they were caught holding on the play. The resulting penalty negated the first down and pushed them back to the 35.
Again, they went for it. This time, Duck rolled to his left, saw his receivers were covered and an apparent open field ahead of him and headed for the first-down stick.
But just before he reached it, Bryant safety Nick Black and linebacker Jake Newell met him. Newell, from the side, knocked him out of bounds. Black, from head on, forced him back. Duck was a yard short and the Hornets took over with 8:46 left to play.
This time, Sheridan’s defense stepped up, however, and forced a Bryant punt. Ault’s 38-yard kick was augmented by a clipping penalty against Sheridan, forcing the Jackets to attempt their comeback from their own 19.
Twice, passes were dropped then the Hornets’ crashed in on Duck who was just able to get a desperation pass away before Defoe and Newell pulled him down inside his own 5-yard line.
So, with 6:38 left, the Jackets were forced to punt, hoping that, with another defensive stand, they’d soon get the ball back for another try.
But, with White carrying 10 of the next 11 plays, Bryant ran out all but :11.5 of the game clock marching to the Sheridan 4.
At that point, the Hornets turned the ball over on downs but Sheridan had little it could do from there. One long pass was attempted and Josh Baumbeck intercepted.
“I thought the offensive line did a good job of blocking,” Patton noted. “We took what they gave us. They tried to take away the pass and did a pretty good job of it but I thought that Derik grew up tonight. I thought Matt White stepped up after Luke got hurt. He made some big runs.
“But the key to the whole game was, the second half, our defense shut them out,” he concluded.
“We just challenged them at the half,” said defensive coordinator Steve Griffith. “The kids came in at half and they felt confident we could come back and win the ballgame. They talked to each other about going out and making some stops with confidence that the offense would put some more points on the board.”