Hornets’ third-quarter barrage buries Rockets
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
LITTLE ROCK — The Bryant Hornets’ offensive coaches and players never can be quite sure what they’re going to get from week to week. They have to prepare for their opponent’s normal defense, plus a number of variations they might see. Some opponents have been willing to make radical changes to their defensive scheme to try to slow the Hornets.
When the Hornets’ offense gets off to a fast start like they did, say, against the Sheridan Yellowjackets earlier this season (28 points in the first half), you should know that coaches Daryl Patton, Paul Calley and Joe Calhoun either predicted well or the opponent didn’t change it’s scheme much. (It also happens that, sometimes, the other team just doesn’t execute well.)
On the other hand, if the Hornets struggle early on offense like they did against Shiloh Christian (7-7 at the half), Benton (trailing 7-6 at the half) or Little Rock Catholic (leading 15-6 with three field goals at the half), you should know that the opposition came up with something unexpected or unorthodox. (It also happens that, sometimes, the other team just executes well.)
But here’s the key. In the latter scenario, the Hornets coaches, almost invariably, solve the puzzle, come up with ways to attack the unexpected strategy, and, sometimes late in the first half, often in the third quarter, gets things revved up.
The best illustration of that came during the 2000 season when the Hornets out-scored the opposition 94-7 in the third quarter. This year, the third quarter has been Bryant’s most offensive. The Hornets have scored 53 points in four games during that period including a 25-point barrage against Catholic at War Memorial Stadium on Friday, Sept. 27. That scoring binge blew up a close game as the Hornets went on to win their first AAAAA-Central Conference game 40-25.
Not that the Hornets weren’t moving the ball in the first half. But for every 22-yard pass completion, it seemed there were two that fell incomplete or picked up 3 or 4 yards. And the Bryant running game was spotty. The Hornets struggled once they got into the red zone but, thanks to sophomore kicker Todd Bryan, they got points on four possessions, three on Bryan field goals of 31, 30 and 28 yards to piece together the 15-6 edge at the half.
“They did a goo d job of mixing it up in the first half,” said Calley of the Rockets’ defensive plan. “They were playing different coverages on both sides (of the field). Then, when we would flip-flop to try to take advantage of it, they would flip their coverage again. It kind of took us by surprise — took me by surprise for sure. But once I determined how they were doing it, we came out the second half and we had four or five plays that we wanted to try to run and we executed well.
“The pass rush wasn’t really there,” Calley added. “Their tackles and their nose man were playing kind of soft, just reading. That takes away our shovel pass, takes away our draw, takes away our tunnel screens, our wide screens and kind of limits us as to what we can do. We had to throw the ball down the field, had to go vertical with them.”
As a result, quarterback Lance Parker passed for 356 yards, completing 22-of-31 passes in the game, including four touchdowns all in the third quarter. After throwing an interception early in the third period that Catholic turned into points, cutting Bryant’s lead to 15-13, Parker completed eight consecutive passes. Five of those were for more than 20 yards.
Patton added, “The big thing was that Coach Calley and Coach Calhoun and Lance, they said, ‘Coach, the middle of the field is going to be wide open.’ So, we started looking at some things we could do to attack the middle of the field. Coach Calley said let’s run the ladder play, basically a high-low, a short cross and a deep dig. We came to that the second possession where A.J. (Nixon) caught it and went 80 yards.”
That play came immediately after Catholic had cut the lead to 2. Nixon caught the ball on the run at about the Bryant 40, cut across the field and went the distance.
“Then we went to another play that’s a curl and an out-and-up,” Patton continued. “We threw the curl several times to Zach (Cardinal) and he made the catch. The interception Lance threw got away from him but Zach was wide open on that.
“So we started hitting the middle of the field, the curls, and when we did that it started getting Catholic to basically play almost like a cover-three/man look. Then we started having the seams down the middle of the field.
“In the first half, they were playing a lot of zone, playing games with us,” Patton noted. “They were taking their ends and walking them out quite a bit. They did play a little bit of cover-two look. And the middle of the field was open in the first half. We should have just taken it but we didn’t. But, after halftime — and this offense is built around monitor-and-adjust, taking what they’re giving us. After we sat down as a staff and talked about what they were doing, I thought going out for the second half we had a pretty good plan of what we wanted to attack.
“During the week of practice, we’ll always put in a little wrinkle here or there but it’s because we don’t know how defenses are going to play us,” Patton added. “If we were running a winged-T or a wishbone like Bryant used to run — the old dead-T — we knew what teams were going to play against us. We knew they were going to put nine in the box and everything they did during that week of practice was preparing for that. With us, over the years, you just don’t know. It’s kind of like pick your poison, I guess. The teams will say, ‘Hey, we’re going to put eight in the box and make you throw the football.’ Well, we will. Or they’ll drop eight (into pass coverage) and make you run the football and we will.
“Now, we’ve not done a great job of running the ball this year other than using the quarterback as a runner, but that’s just the name of the game for us,” explained the head coach. “We’re going to line up and run our offense and take what you’re giving us. You can’t take away both. That’s what our feeling is.”
As usual, the Bryant defense was steady. It was just the sixth time in the last four seasons that the Hornets had given up as many as 25 points in a game, and two touchdowns came late in the contest when the Hornets reserves were getting some playing time.
Bryant led 3-0 on Bryan’s first field goal when Catholic got its first TD. On a third-and-7 at its 29, the Rockets’ quarterback Justin Pierce rolled right to escape pressure. The Hornets’ secondary broke to stop a run but Pierce lofted a pass at the last second that was deflected into the arms of Zach Higgs. Behind the secondary, Higgs went the distance.
“Overall, I was pleased,” said co-ordinator Steve Griffith of his defense’s performance. “I felt like the score in the first half was kind of a fluke play. The ball was tipped. We thought the (quarterback) was running so one d-back started up. He got his hand up and tipped the ball. It could’ve easily been intercepted. It just fell in the guy’s hands and we were in poor position once he did catch it because we were going for the interception off the tip. He just turned and ran for the touchdown. That didn’t bother us a whole lot.”
The Hornets countered with their only first-half touchdown drive. Parker was 6-of-6 in the air including a 27-yard completion to Cardinal that converted a fourth-and-7 from the Catholic 28. That helped overcome a 10-yard sack, the only one of the night against Parker. Brandon St. Pierre plowed in for the touchdown on the next play.
St. Pierre had a pair of interceptions in the game including one moments later that set up Bryan’s second field goal. Trailing 12-6, the Rockets fumbled on the first play after that Bryan kick. Matt Cooley recovered at the 13 and, three plays later, Bryan booted it to 15-6.
Parker had a tipped pass intercepted by Danny Koehler to foil a late bid at another score by the Hornets. And, on the first possession of the second half, George Davison picked off an overthrown aerial. Led by sophomore quarterback Steven Head, the Rockets drove 38 yards in seven plays to make it 15-13. Head scored on a 2-yard option keeper.
“We weren’t too happy that, after the turnover to begin the second half — that’s something we talk about, it’s one of our defensive goals, not to allow a score after a turnover,” Griffith said. “So, we were disappointed we did not come up and play well. But I was pleased that then we got the ball and scored and then the defense responded with two more turnovers.”
Indeed, after Parker and Nixon connected on the 80-yard TD bolt, defensive tackle Jesse Nordman recovered a fumble at the Catholic 25. A play later, Parker rifled a 21-yard pass to Dustin Tinkler in the left corner of the end zone to make it 28-13.
And, moments later, defensive tackle Josh White covered another Rocket bobble at the 28. Parker gunned a 24-yard pass to St. Pierre in the seam, setting up a 4-yard TD toss to Nixon that made it 34-13.
After forcing a Catholic punt, the Hornets capped off the carnage with an 80-yard drive in five plays. Parker was 4-for-4 with two completions to Nixon of 12 and 13 yards. He also completed a 22-yard pass to Scott Peeler who made the grab despite the cast on his right wrist. After Bo Lee made a 9-yard run, Parker found Cardinal for a 24-yard TD pass.
Both Nixon (six catches) and Cardinal (seven catches) went over 120 yards on their receptions in the game. The Hornets finished with 464 yards of offense.
The Hornets starting subbing after that and Catholic gamely took advantage of some Bryant mistakes to score twice on short drives. And it forced the Hornets to go back to their starting offense with 4:27 left. With St. Pierre reeling off some good runs, the Hornets drove to the 36 before punting with 1:09 left to play.
“I thought we lost a little intensity in the fourth quarter,” Griffith allowed. “We brought in some young kids and busted a couple of assignments but, overall, we were pretty pleased.”
The win sets up an early conference showdown with the Little Rock McClellan Lions who, like Bryant, bring a 4-0 overall record into the game.