Clutch play keeps BJHS unbeaten
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
If the Bryant Junior High Mustangs go on to a championship in the South Division of the Central Arkansas Conference, one of the moments they will be able to look back to as a key to that run to glory occurred Thursday, Sept. 28, against the Lake Hamilton Wolves.
Trailing 8-6 as the last minute of the third quarter wound down, the Mustangs were on defense after an interception by Lake Hamilton’s Andrew Davis. The Junior Wolves faced a third-and-5 at the Bryant 16 and fullback Sean Alexander broke free up the middle. But, as Alexander’s tackle-breaking run neared the end zone, he lost control of the football. Trying to regain the handle, Alexander actually had the ball roll across his back before it hit the turf. Zack Cardinal recovered for the Mustangs at the 1.
Bryant had dodged a bullet. Though it was no picnic starting a possession at its own 1, it sure beat falling behind 14-6 or 16-6.
And to top it off, that’s when the offense, which had performed in fits and starts for most of the game, came through with a 99-yard touchdown drive in five plays, topped by a game-breaking 80-yard pass for the score from quarterback Scott Peeler to flanker Bo Lee.
The touchdown came with 6:48 left in the game and the Bryant defense made it stand up for a 12-8 win in the opener of South Division play for both Central Arkansas Junior High Conference teams.
Lake Hamilton, which came into the game at 4-0 (just like the Mustangs), was unable to muster a single first down after Bryant took that lead.
Cardinal, who not only made that crucial fumble recovery, then helped spring Lee with a downfield block, came through again, moments later, on the kickoff. Lake Hamilton’s Bryson Ferrell fielded the kick at his 16 and broke free up the left sideline. He got to midfield with one man to beat for a clear path to the end zone and a go-ahead score. But that was Cardinal and he made the tackle at the Lake Hamilton 49.
Bryant’s John Dunaway stuffed Lake Hamilton’s first run from there and, a play later, Lapaka Szabad, Morgan Conner and Jesse Nordman stopped the Wolves’ Aaron Puckett on a third-and-4 at the Bryant 45. On fourth down, Szabad and Brett Tracy pounded Tyler Carter short of the first down and Bryant took over with 4:55 left to play.
Peeler, who had struggled at times during the game, stepped up with a pair of key runs as the Mustangs whittled the clock down to 2:25 before being forced to punt. Then, for the second time in the game, Peeler punted Lake Hamilton deep into its own end. The Wolves’ last-gasp chance had to begin at their own 1.
A play into the possession, Peeler sealed the Bryant victory with an interception.
“I believe that was probably the ugliest game I’ve ever seen,” stated Bryant head coach Scott Neatherly. “Fumbles, interceptions — but that’s what happens sometimes with two undefeated teams. You’ve got a lot of pressure.”
Adding to the pressure for the Mustangs was the fact that Todd Bryan, a starting receiver and the team’s accomplished place-kicker, was injured in the eighth-grade game and was unavailable.
“We had to do some shuffling at the last minute,” Neathery noted. “He’s a key player for us and, whenever you have to start shuffling people around, you tend to kind of panic a little bit. And, I think, our team panicked just a little bit whenever that happened.
“Then we faced some adversity in the early part of the ballgame and that’s what we talked about at the half, overcoming adversity,” he continued. “And that’s what I’m most proud of, the way they overcame adversity. Defensively, we got a fumble when we needed one. Bo Lee came up with a big run.
“It just seems like we do what we have to do to win,” he added. “I don’t like them that close but I’ll take a win. I’m very excited to be 5-0 and 1-0 right now.”
The two teams traded punts for most of the first quarter with Bryant gaining the field-position advantage when Peeler booted the Junior Wolves back to the 1 with 2:58 left in the quarter. Lake Hamilton couldn’t manage a first down and punted it back with Cardinal making a fair catch at the Wolves’ 35.
But two plays later, Puckett made an interception for Lake Hamilton and returned it to the Bryant 35.
The Wolves drove to the 8 where, on a third-and-1, Szabad knocked down a pass attempt by quarterback Casey Bailey. On fourth down, however, Puckett picked up the first and, a play later, he scored on a 5-yard run.
A run for two by Puckett made it 8-0.
Bryant made a bid to get on the board late in the half. Peeler hit 5-of-7 passes as the Mustangs drove to the Lake Hamilton 14. The clock was stopped after Peeler scrambled out of bounds with about :04 left, though the clock ran down to :00.3 before the officials made a clear signal to stop it. Though out of timeouts, a Mustangs player asked for one and a delay of game penalty was assessed against them.
“One official was saying it was halftime,” Neathery related. “But the official on our sideline saw what we saw. So, they had a conference and decided it was halftime.”
Ordinarily after a penalty, the ball is spotted and the clock doesn’t start again until then. But Neathery’s protest went unsatisfied and, much to the Mustangs’ frustration, so did their golden opportunity to score.
And Lake Hamilton got the ball first in the second half and, despite a clip on the runback that pinned the Wolves back at their own 5, they drove to the 40 where a holding penalty knocked them back. On a second-and-24 at the 26, the Wolves appeared to have some trickery in mind when Carter took a pitch and started looking downfield for a receiver. But Peeler charged up and belted Carter, knocking the ball loose. Scotty Lawrence recovered for the Mustangs at the 16.
From there, a pair of runs by Brandon Spurr reached the end zone.
Trailing 8-6 and without Bryan, the Mustangs tried to go for a tying two-pointer but failed.
In turn, Ferrell busted a long return on the ensuing kickoff. Again Cardinal, the safety, saved a touchdown as Ferrell reached the Bryant 23.
On the next play, though, Kevin Carr knocked the ball loose from Ferrell on a run up the middle and Nordman recovered for Bryant.
On the Mustangs’ first play, however, Davis came up with the interception that led to the turning point in the ballgame.
Though Lake Hamilton is considered one of the top contenders for the South Division championship, the Mustangs won’t be able to let up at all this week as they travel to face another contender, Conway White.
The Junior Wampus Kittens are 4-1 after a 38-8 division-opening win over Benton last week.