Defense, ground game spark Hornets vs. Z’s
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 you go looking for inspiration, you might as well look to the best. And that’s just what Bryant Hornets senior running back Dustin Seljan did during the week leading up to his team’s Homecoming game against the Pine Bluff Zebras on Friday, Sept. 29.
“I watched a little of a highlight tape,” he said after the game. “He’s the greatest running back of all time. Every time a running play was about to happen, I just thought of him. That’s what carried me down the field: ‘Walter Payton, Walter Payton, Walter Payton.’”
Such inspiration: Seljan wound up posting Payton-like numbers, rushing 21 times for 175 yards and his first varsity touchdown in the Hornets’ 24-0 win over the Z’s. It was just the second time a Bryant team has defeated a Pine Bluff team in 12 meetings.
“Dustin felt like, last week, he didn’t play very well,” noted Hornets head coach Paul Calley. “I think he had something to prove and he stepped up tonight. He’s a great kid and he deserved tonight.”
“Our offense hadn’t connected yet, the last four games,” Seljan related, “but we finally came together as a team. The blocking was perfect. It was flawless and the running game was working.”
“Our offense line — with their defense line, we had to move some people around to try to block those guys,” added Calley, who coaches the offensive line. “My guys are finally coming together. I thought this was the group I was going to have starting the season.”
Of course, it helped that the Hornets’ defense pitched its first shutout of the season, limiting Pine Bluff’s ground game to 91 yards total and a net of 164 yards of total offense.
“The kids did a great job of adjusting to the speed of the game after the first three or four series,” noted Hornets defensive coordinator Steve Griffith. “The speed of the game with the sweep was giving us a little trouble early. We talked to the kids all week about the scout team can’t simulate that. When the game gets going, we’ve got to make our adjustments to that, change our angles a little bit. And the kids did a great job.”
Pine Bluff, trailing 10-0 at the half, managed just two first downs in the second half, both by penalty, and only 22 yards net offense.
“We made a couple of changes at halftime,” Griffith explained. “We went to a five-front a little bit which they did not expect, I don’t think. That gave us a little edge. We made some big plays off of that. Of course, then the offense did a great job of putting some more points on the board and that forced them into the passing game. The kids responded well, got great pressure on the quarterback and the secondary did a good job. Cody Williams, Chad England, Chris Taylor and Nathan Probst were getting great pressure and that makes it a little bit easier on the secondary.”
Junior safety Logan Cruse led the Hornets with nine tackles, two assists, one tackle for a loss, three special teams tackles, a pass break-up and an interception. Williams had five tackles, two assists, two tackles for losses and a sack while sophomore linebacker Austin Humbard added four stops, five assists and a tackle for a loss.
As the defense adjusted early, the Zebras put together their best drive in their initial possession, taking advantage of a good punt return to set up at the Bryant 48. They drove to the 24 and, on a second-and-9, halfback Jaurivis Halford broke to the 11 only to have holding penalty negate the run. On the next play, Halford reeled off a 21-yard run but, again, a holding penalty wiped it out
In all, the Zebras were flagged nine times in the game for 76 yards not counting the yardage lost. And it could’ve been worse as they struggled to block the Hornets’ defenders.
The Zebras eventually lined up to punt on a fourth-and-25 at the Bryant 40. Punter William Wilson faked it, however, and threw to Halford. The Hornets got a break when Halford slipped down 2 yards short of the first-down marker.
Offensively, the Hornets tried to get the passing game going early with mixed results. Senior quarterback Matt Schrader completed a pair of passes but was also sacked twice over the course of their first two series.
On the third try, however, Seljan broke loose with runs of 20, 10, and 15 to go with an 11-yard gallop by sophomore Aspen Trevino as Bryant pounded to the Pine Bluff 5 in six plays started from their own 32. Seljan scored from there to break the ice.
“We were able to run the ball tonight,” acknowledged Calley. “We were kind of hit-and-miss in the passing game. We put together the drive on the ground, got some momentum and made them change their defense. It was a chess match in the second half. We did some things I was very proud of and impressed with. But we’re still making some things hard that shouldn’t be.”
The teams traded punts until late in the half when Pine Bluff drove to the 27 where it faced a fourth-and-2. Eric Wallace, who led the Zebras with 74 yards on 17 carries got the call but was stopped by a group of Hornets led by Cruse and Taylor with 1:49 left.
The Hornets were forced to punt with about a minute to go and the Zebras got good field position at their 43. But a dropped pass was followed by a sack of quarterback Barry McDonley by Williams for a loss of 11 and a third-down desperation pass was picked off by Cruse and returned to the Zebras’ 31.
With :06 left, Schrader threw a quick pass down the middle to Taylor Masters for 9 yards and the Hornets took a timeout with :01 showing to set up a field goal attempt by Jordan Knight. It would’ve been a 40-yard try but Pine Bluff had 12 players on the field and, at the snap, was flagged. The 5-yard penalty actually moved the Hornets up 6 yards but Knight had plenty of leg and knocked it through for a 10-0 lead.
A quick stop by the Hornets’ adjusted defense to start the second half set up another scoring drive in which the offense mixed it up particularly well. From the 39, it took 13 plays. Schrader was 5 of 7 passing along the way including two quick ones to Jeremy Jordan to start the march and a pair of third-down conversions. On third-and-4 from the Pine Bluff 44, he connected with Masters for 7 yards. On third-and-4 from the Z’s 31, he hit Tim Floyd for 11. Meanwhile, six runs by Seljan produced 18 yards. On third-and-goal at the 9, Schrader found Masters for the touchdown and Knight added the PAT for a 17-0 lead.
Pine Bluff didn’t manage its initial first down of the second half until late in the third quarter. On a third-and-7 from the Zebras’ 39, McDonley passed down the right side and was intercepted by Knight. But a pass interference call negated the pick and gave Pine Bluff a first down at the Bryant 45.
The Zebras got no further. Probst stopped Wallace for no gain, Taylor dropped Patrick Wright for a loss of 5 and a third-down pass was knocked down by safety Dijon Benton.
Pine Bluff punted the Hornets back to the 1 and, eventually, Bryant was forced to punt from its own end zone, producing the Zebras’ last, best chance to snap the shutout.
From the Bryant 37, they still couldn’t earn a first down. But, on a fourth-and-six at the 33, the personal foul penalty after an incomplete pass allowed them to keep the ball.
On the next play, however, a holding penalty backed them up to the 28 and four incomplete passes later, the Hornets got the ball back anyway.
Seljan blasted for 2 then broke a 69-yarder, setting up Schrader’s 1-yard sneak the capped the scoring.
The win improved the Hornets to 4-1 overall, 2-0 in the 7A-Central Conference going into a trip to Russellville. Pine Bluff fell to 0-5 and 0-2, a record that’s a bit deceiving.
“You’ve got to look at who they lost to,” Calley noted. “They lost to No. 1 Fayetteville, No. 2 Northside, No. 3 or 4 Central and they were in each game at the half. They led Northside at the half. This is a quality win. You can’t judge this team by their record. They came out here ready to play. I knew they would.”
Still, with one of their best performances of the season, the Hornets kept them winless.