Mustangs open season with romp over Bears
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
SHERWOOD — With any work, the Bryant Junior High Mustangs may be plain scary on special teams this season if their performance against the Sylvan Hills Junior Bears is any indication.
In the season opener for both teams on Thursday, Sept. 5, the Mustangs returned two punts for touchdowns on the way to a 31-7 victory.
The Mustangs led just 7-6 when Anthony Mask fielded a Sylvan Hills punt at the Bryant 20 and raced down the right sideline for a TD. Then, early in the fourth quarter, Zach Kellum sealed the victory with a 79-yard return.
“Special teams are an important part of the game,” said first-year head coach Terry Harper. “The coaches did a good job on the special teams. We haven’t worked on them as much as we need to, but we did a couple of things that looked pretty good. We’ve got room to improve in a lot of areas. That’s an exciting thing.
“This group plays with a lot of heart,” Harper said of the team as a whole. “The other guys may be bigger, stronger and faster, but we haven’t seen anybody with as much heart as this group. That makes up for a lot. Sylvan Hills was bigger and faster but we executed pretty good, the defense played extremely well except for a couple of breakdowns. They’ve been playing good the whole time. They’re not real big but they know what they’re doing and they play hard.”
In fact, the Bryant defense limited Sylvan Hills to a net of 77 yards of offense, all on the ground, and just four first downs.
Offensively, Mask completed 7-of-16 passes for 151 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also ran the ball twice for 64 yards including a 52-yard scoring sprint.
In fact, penalties and a pair of fumbles probably prevented the margin of victory being greater. Twice on the Mustangs’ first possession of the game, they seemed to be headed to paydirt. Kellum broke the first play from scrimmage for an apparent 56-yard touchdown run, but a holding penalty negated the run. Two plays later, however, Mask connected on a deep pass to Phillip Porchay. The play went for 29 yards but ended with a fumble that Sylvan Hills recovered.
The defense, however, set the tone for the game with the ensuing Junior Bears possession. On first down, Dustin Holland stopped the Bears’ Marcus Tidwell for a loss of a yard. On second down, Kyle Pudinas got penetration for the Mustangs and Aaron Walker led a pack of tacklers as Tidwell lost another yard. On third down, Sylvan Hills quarterback Shawn Bybee was dumped for a loss of a yard by Sherief Qassas.
The Bears punted and John Isabell returned 14 yards to the Sylvan Hills 47. Three plays later on a fourth-and-one, Isabell hauled in a pass from Mask, who was being dragged down when he released the pass, for a 38-yard touchdown play. Pierce Tucker kicked the extra points and it was 7-0.
After an exchange of punts, Sylvan Hills came up with their only two first downs of the half as the second quarter began. In fact, Tidwell’s 43-yard burst was just the second play (out of eight) that the Bears gained yardage. Then much of that run was negated by a holding penalty downfield. Still, they had their best field position of the game at the Bryant 28. A play later, Michael Gross broke up the middle and scored on a 27-yard run.
Sylvan Hills went for a two-point conversion but Bryant’s Lance Hodges and Zach Scott stopped the runner short and the Mustangs retained a 7-6 lead.
After Kellum returned the subsequent kickoff 35 yards to get Bryant in Sylvan Hills territory again, a fumble cost the Mustangs a couple of plays later. Sylvan Hills recovered but could not get a first down. That led to Mask’s 80-yard punt return for a touchdown.
The Mustangs defense went back to smothering the Sylvan Hills running game and forced another punt with less than two minutes left in the half. Despite a pair of penalties, including a 15-yard personal foul, Bryant drove for another score. Mask started the drive with a 12-yard keeper. Later, he completed a 10-yard pass to Holland. After the major penalty set them back to midfield, Mask passed 41 yards to Tanner Zuber to set up the touchdown play. After a timeout with :29 left, Mask and Holland teamed up on the 9-yard scoring strike, making it 19-6 at the half.
Sylvan Hills’ offense had little success again as the second half started. On its first three plays, two of them lost yardage including a 5-yard setback when Isabell dropped Gross on second down.
After a punt, Bryant began its first possession of the half at its own 28. Kellum picked up 5 yards and a 15-yard penalty was tacked on. From the 48, Mask then ran the quarterback draw and went the distance, 52 yards for a touchdown and a 25-6 advantage.
Hodges intercepted a pass to get the ball back for Bryant with 2:26 left in the third period. But the Mask had a pass picked off in return by Sylvan Hills’ Gerald Clark.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, the Bears punted once again and Kellum brought it back for the final touchdown.