Hornets knock off 9th-ranked Cats
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
CONWAY — The significance of the Bryant Hornets’ impressive 30-15 victory over the 9th-ranked Conway Wampus Cats Friday, is yet to be determined. It all depends on what happens from here on.
That’s not to say the win, as sweet as any the Hornets have earned in awhile, is insignificant by itself. It was a doozy.
But, if the Hornets are able to follow it up, to build on it, to make it a jumping off point for a breakthrough season instead of just a high point in just another near-miss of a campaign, beating Conway could be looked back on as a true landmark for the Bryant football program.
This could be the start of something big, something many feel has been long overdue at Bryant.
As it is, however, head coach Daryl Patton stated flatly, “We’re 1-0. I’m not trying to downplay it because it’s a big victory, but it’s a big victory because it was the one we played this Friday night. It’s still not meeting our goal of what we want to do as far as being in the playoffs. We want to be 3-0 when we get to conference. We’ve got a big game next against Catholic. We’ve got to get over this quickly, come back and be ready for Catholic because they’re a good ball team.”
In other words, stay focused; the big brass ring the Hornets seek is still out there.
In that regard, the most impressive thing about the Hornets’ performance against Conway may well be 1, how they made their own breaks; 2, how much they took advantage of their opportunities; and 3, how well they responded to adversity.
The first two of those factors, of course, go hand-in-hand. The Hornets forced two turnovers, blocked a punt and nearly got a second. They took advantage of each of those breaks, turning them into points.
The first break came when junior Chris Melhorn almost got to the game’s initial punt by Conway Ty Ledbetter. The kick wound up going off the side of Ledbetter’s foot and going out of bounds only 15 yards upfield. In three plays, Bryant scored a touchdown to snap a 7-7 tie. It was the first touchdown pass of senior Derik McCoy’s varsity career, a 17-yard connection with junior Matt Brown.
A few minutes later, the Hornets defense forced Conway into another punting situation. Again, Melhorn raced in unblocked and, this time, he nailed the kick which dribbled upfield 7 yards to midfield.
Again, the Hornets took advantage thanks in large part to a 42-yard pass from McCoy to Brown. On a fourth-and-goal at the 5, junior Nick Harbert booted a 22-yard field goal that made it 16-7, the halftime score.
The turnovers came in the second half. The first came after Bryant opened the third quarter with its only three-downs-and-punt possession. Conway was charged up, thinking comeback and forced the Hornets’ first punt. The Cats took over at their own 42 and, with a rejuvenated running game, pounded their way to the Bryant 28.
With the momentum seemingly shifted to Conway, the Hornets defense came up big, forcing quarterback Brett Taylor to fumble. Joe Gould recovered for the Hornets at the 32.
Taylor, a junior, came into the game after the third play of the night because of an injury to starter Rusty Ramsey. On a rollout pass play, Ramsey absorbed a crunching tackle for a loss by Bryant linebacker Luke Brown. Ramsey tore an anterior cruciate ligament in his knee on the play and may be out for the season.
But Taylor came in and guided Conway the rest of the way on their opening touchdown drive. The Wampus Cats, however, didn’t get as close to scoring again until the possession that ended with Taylor’s fumble.
Penalties, which had sabotaged several of Conway’s best plays during the game, bit the Hornets hard on their subsequent possession. McCoy completed four straight passes to three different receivers during a drive that reached the Conway 32 only to be backed up by a pair of holding calls. The second of those negated a 16-yard run that would’ve converted a fourth-and-six and pushed the Hornets to the 20. Instead they were faced with a fourth-and-13 at the Conway 43 and Josh Ault was called on to punt.
What followed was a play that may have saved the game for Bryant considering the momentum ramifications. There was a high snap on the punt. Ault got a hand on it but it got over his head. He retrieved it inside the Bryant 35, kept his cool, avoided one Conway defender as he appeared to give running a thought. He scooted ahead just enough to clear himself of the first defender then, with another bearing down on him, somehow got the kick away.
It rolled to the Conway 17. Instead of starting the possession in Bryant territory, thanks to Ault, the Wampus Cats had 83 yards between them and the goal line.
How’s that for handling adversity well?
After a holding penalty negated a 53-yard run by halfback John Duhart, Conway found itself in a third-and-five situation at their own 37. Taylor had completed just one pass in the game, an 18-yarder on his first attempt of the night early in that opening touchdown drive. He tried again, rolling to his left. But the Hornets had him surrounded. He turned in an attempt to find a receiver back over the middle and there was Bryant defensive tackle Patrick Defoe with a perfectly timed form tackle. The football popped out of Taylor’s hands and high into the air. In full stride, Bryant cornerback Josh Baumbeck stabbed the loose ball and sailed down the sideline with a full escort for a Bryant touchdown.
Harbert booted the extra point and Bryant led 23-7.
A penalty on the kickoff return forced Conway to start its subsequent possession at its own 8. Still, the Cats punched their way to the 33 then Taylor completed a 52-yard pass to John Bishop. A holding penalty negated the play, however, and three plays later, the Cats were punting.
Bryant answered with a clinching touchdown drive of 60 yards in 12 plays. McCoy, who completed 15-of-23 passes for 210 yards in the game, went 4-of-6 along the way. His 12-yard completion to Matt Brown converted a third-and-7 at the 15 and set up Matt White’s 1-yard touchdown plunge with 6:11 left to play.
Bryant led 30-7.
“At the very beginning I was nervous,” said McCoy. “I mean, I was nervous. I felt pretty bad but the first play of the game, I felt great. I loosened up and had fun.
“We made a few mistakes in the game but overall I think we did a pretty good job,” he added.
With sophomore Dennis Jones at quarterback, Conway scored a late touchdown to narrow the gap. But an onside kick was unsuccessful and behind the running of Brandon Nichols and Luke Brown and a dominating effort by the offensive line, the Hornets ate up the last 4:09 of the game, driving to the Conway 12 where the game ended.
“I thought we basically won the line of scrimmage offensively and defensively,” Patton stated afterwards. “Keeping (Conway) out of the end zone as long as we did is quite an accomplishment. (After the game-opening touchdown drive), I thought our kids just started swarming to the football. We gave up a few four or five yard plays, but when our guys got there, there were six or seven Hornets to smack ‘em in the mouth.”
Patton admitted he was concerned early in the third quarter. “I was kind of worried when we came out and went three and out,” he said. “That’s not good. But the defense came up with a big turnover. That was big.
“And I don’t believe we had a turnover tonight,” he noted. “That’s great. That’s big not to have any turnovers on the road. I was very proud of Derik. I thought he threw the ball well.”
McCoy completed the first three passes in the game. His first, an 18-yard connection with Matt Brown, converted a third-and-13 from the Bryant 29 as the Hornets responded to Conway’s opening TD-march with one of their own that covered 80 yards in 15 plays. A 17-yard completion from McCoy to Michael Wallace set up Luke Brown’s 1-yard touchdown plunge that, with Harbert’s PAT, tied the game at 7.