Hornets escape Pine Bluff with 32-10 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
PINE BLUFF — Pine Bluff can be a dangerous place.
Whether you’re walking downtown late at night trying to protect your wallet or playing football at Jordan Stadium trying to protect your No. 1 ranking, the possibility of a calamity looms.
Even though the Pine Bluff Zebras football team was winless, they’d shown their potential by tying the Fayetteville Bulldogs earlier this year. And there was little reason to wonder how they did it when the team made its entrance onto the field prior to their 7A-Central Conference game against the Bryant Hornets, ranked No. 1 by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
They were an imposing sight, big and athletic. And there were times during the game that you could see as soon as new head coach Bobby Bolding gets his system installed, the Zebras will be back close to the form they showed in the program’s heyday.
But that won’t be something the Hornets will have to worry about in the near future as Pine Bluff drops to Class 6A next year.
Combine that with the fact that the Hornets were coming off an emotional win over Little Rock Catholic, playing a team without a win and looking ahead to a potential first-place showdown with Russellville, and it’s understandable that the Hornets were happy to escape Jordan Stadium with a 30-12 win, the program’s first ever at Pine Bluff.
Improving to 4-0-1 overall and 2-0 in the conference, the Hornets stand as the last unbeaten team in Class 7A after Friday’s results. Defending State champion Fort Smith Southside, the team Bryant tied earlier this season, was knocked from the unbeaten ranks by Rogers while Cabot, a 7A-Central rival, was upset by Catholic.
And, with a suddenly hot Russellville team coming off a win over perennial conference power Little Rock Central, the results set up a shootout for the league lead between the Hornets and the Cylcones at Bryant on Friday, Sept. 28.
But for two plays (which, incidentally, showed just how dangerous the Zebras were) and some missed opportunities early, the Hornets would’ve dominated Pine Bluff.
As it was, the defense allowed just 7 points on a 60-yard touchdown pass. Take that play away and the Zebras finished with just 88 yards of total offense.
“I was very pleased with the effort,” said Bryant defensive coordinator Steve Griffith. “We had one mental breakdown that led to a big score but other than that I thought the kids played extremely hard, extremely smart against a very athletic team. We did a good job of keeping them contained and dealing with that athleticism.”
The Zebras managed a net of just 57 yards rushing.
“Just by playing solid, good football,” Griffith said. “Looking on film, we felt like if they did the things they did (in previous games) and if our kids played technique like we teach, then we should be in good shape. And our kids did a good job. The defensive ends did a nice job of closing things off, the linebackers and safeties making tackles when they tried to bounce outside.”
Junior linebacker Austin Humbard was in on a team-high 12 tackles and earned the Regions Defensive Player of the Game honors. And Bryant welcomed back senior safety Logan Cruse who suffered a break in his hand near the end of the Southside game two weeks prior.
The Hornets’ offense had its hands full too, particularly early, but senior quarterback Logan Parker threw for three touchdowns including two to Jake Jackson who was named the Regions Offensive Player of the Game. Junior running back Aspen Trevino piled up 107 yards rushing and junior kicker Austin Bradley booted three early field goals.
Those field goals proved crucial. On the first play of the game, defensive tackle Chad England deflected a pass by Pine Bluff quarterback Claude Johnson and Humbard intercepted, returning to the Zebras 12.
But the Hornets couldn’t move the ball and, on fourth-and-9, they got some points out of the break thanks to Bradley’s 29-yard kick.
The Hornets got good field position moments later when Johnson, back to punt, fumbled the snap. He recovered enough to get a kick away as the Hornets descended but it went straight up in the air and actually landed behind him. Bryant recovered at the 18.
Again, however, Pine Bluff’s defense wouldn’t budge. Bradley saved the opportunity from being a waste once more, though, with a 34-yard boot, the longest of his brief career.
Pine Bluff got to run two plays on the subsequent possession and, on the second one, Bryant’s Adam Harris intercepted Sebastian Stargell’s pass and returned to the Zebras’ 25.
Moments later, Bradley returned to the field and topped his previous best, nailing a 39-yard field goal to make it 9-0 with 5:19 left in the first quarter. Neither team had recorded a first down to that point.
“You don’t anticipate getting the ball in that good a position,” commented Hornets offensive coordinator Brooks Coatney. “Of course, we need that. But when you play a team like (Pine Bluff) with speed and you’re on a short field and you haven’t gotten into the rhythm of the game yet, it’s tough to move it. I credit (Pine Bluff) because, in the secondary, they were pretty good. Even the balls that we caught for touchdowns (later), they were right there.”
But the 9-0 lead proved a little tenuous when Johnson sailed a long pass downfield that receiver Jarvis Mayo ran under and hauled in for the 60-yard TD. Though a two-point conversion attempt failed, the Zebras were suddenly down just 9-6.
Showing the character and resilience that has become a hallmark of the Bryant football program, the Hornets answered with a methodical march down the field. In 10 plays, they drove 77 yards to increase the margin.
Their only third down along the way came once they reached the Pine Bluff 24. A nifty run by Parker got the first down at the 15 and, with a face mask penalty moving the ball half the distance to the goal line, Bryant was in scoring position. Parker’s first TD strike to Jackson got the points on the very next play. Bradley added the extra point to make it 16-6.
“We didn’t really change anything,” Coatney stated. “I think our guys just got more into the flow of the game. We haven’t played anyone that’s that athletic and fast in the secondary.”
The teams traded punts until late in the half when Pine Bluff’s Martez Glass stepped in front of a Parker pass and raced 53 yards for a touchdown that pulled the Zebras within 16-12.
Again, however, the Hornets answered, driving 73 yards in eight plays with Trevino slashing for runs of 16 and 17 yards along the way. An 18-yard pass from Parker to Kaleb Jobe was helpful. The touchdown came three plays later with Parker finding Jackson from 10 yards out with 0:50 left in the half. Bradley’s kick made it 23-12.
“We were able to run the ball after the first three series and that kind of softened them up,” Coatney mentioned, “and we were able to mix up the run and the pass a little bit better, not be so one-dimensional.”
Pine Bluff threatened to cut into the lead after stopping the Hornets on a fourth-and-1 near midfield early in the second half. The Zebras drove to the Bryant 20 but, after a loss on first down, a third-and-12 play resulted in an interception by Jordan Knight who returned the ball to the 37.
It was Knight’s third interception of the season.
A 40-yard pass from Parker to Jackson got the Hornets in scoring range but they could get no closer than the 17. Bradley got a shot at kicking a fourth field goal but it hooked to the left, no good.
In turn, Pine Bluff took a risk, going for it on a fourth-and-1 from its own 29. When Johnson was stopped by the middle of Bryant defense, the Hornets took over and made the Zebras pay. Taylor Masters got the 6 on a 28-yard pass from Parker. Bradley kicked the PAT and the final score was on the board with 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Zebras were only able to cross midfield once in the fourth quarter but got no closer than the 45. The Hornets, meanwhile, ate clock, keeping it on the ground on all 11 of their fourth-quarter snaps. They got to the Pine Bluff 23 but fumbled the ball away. Later, they reached the Zebras’ 35 but came up short on a fourth down play and turned it over with just 2:12 to go. A sack by Dexter Barksdale put the Zebras in a hole on their final possession and they couldn’t overcome it.