Hornets D makes early lead stand up
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
EL DORADO — Fans who have followed the Bryant Hornets football program in recent years have seen it often enough that it’s almost taken for granted. Pitted against a team that’s bigger, stronger and faster, the Hornets not only find a way to compete but often win.
And it’s been consistently that way with each new edition of the Hornets team. Remarkably so, if you think about it.
Still, though it has become almost expected, the first time a new group of Hornets gets it done, it’s an impressive thing; stunning, in fact, particularly to the opponent.
Asked before the Hornets’ game against the bigger, stronger, faster Wildcats at El Dorado on Friday, Sept. 9, Bryant head coach Paul Calley explained, “In the past, we’ve overcome (those disadvantages) with maturity level and a desire to be the best and to learn everything we can learn.”
And he added of this year’s team, “We’re yet to get to that point in the season right now.”
Consider it done. At least, for now, as the Hornets found the formula to knock off the Wildcats, 16-10, for their first win of the season.
“The El Dorado coaches told me before the game, ‘Man, your kids play hard,’” Calley revealed. “I said, ‘Yeah, when you’re not real talented you have to play hard.’ And our kids do. And it’s going to help them win some ballgames.”
The Hornets’ offense produced a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and, though they didn’t score again, they moved the ball enough to create a field position advantage. A couple of exceptional punts by Cody Williams helped too.
And the defense bent but only broke once. El Dorado’s 67-yard scoring drive to start the second quarter made it 14-7. Take that away and the Wildcats managed just 90 yards of total offense the rest of the game, despite a huge offensive line, a bull of a running back, a speedy tailback and impressive wide receivers.
And, in the end, the defense forced a game-clinching safety.
“The defense stepped up time and time again,” Calley emphasized. “I was really proud of them.”
“It’s just a tribute to the kids,” stated defensive coordinator Steve Griffith. “Obviously, (El Dorado was) much bigger than we were but we sold the kids that if we’re aggressive, we attack and we play good technique, we can overcome that size. We’ve done it for years. That’s our game. We’re going to have quicker kids on defense that can run and move and that can get over and play the speed of the game that some of these other teams have. Sometimes we have to give up a little size to do that but we believe that that’s a good trade-off.
“They played extremely hard like they did last week,” Griffith added. “I think we eliminated some of the mistakes we had last week. We still had some. We’ve got some room to improve and that’s a good thing. We know there’s some things we can do better. But I’m just extremely proud of their effort, just tremendous.”
“I told the kids before we came out, the game would be decided by field position,” Calley said. “Tonight, we turned the field over. We moved the ball out, punted them deep and that was the key to me. You know, an offense comes out and they’ve got 40 yards to go, they’re breathing fire. They’ve got 80 to go, then they’re thinking well, we just need to get it out of the hole.”
The Hornets gained the initial field position advantage when Jon Isbell returned the opening kickoff 38 yards to the El Dorado 43. Senior quarterback Anthony Mask struggled with his accuracy early, however (a rare thing) and the Hornets punted the Wildcats back to their 27. And when, on a third-down play, Bryant’s Josh Vocque sacked quarterback Kevin Ganus, El Dorado was forced to punt from deep in its own end.
Thus, the Hornet offense got its second chance starting at the El Dorado 49. Zack Kellum peeled off a 9-yard run then got a first down with a 4-yard burst. Mask missed his first three passes of the possession but came through in the clutch. His 18-yard pass to Isbell converted a third-and-10 and got the Hornets to the El Dorado 18.
In fact, the Hornets converted four consecutive third down situations on their way to paydirt on that drive. On a third-and-five at the 13, Mask found Isbell for 7. On a third-and-goal at the 6, Dustin Holland hauled in a screen pass and dashed into the end zone for the score.
In turn, El Dorado’s offense got nowhere. On a second-and-6, Pierce Tucker dropped Ganus for a 4-yard loss. On the next play, safety Hunter Hatcher went high to intercept a pass and the Hornets were back on offense at their own 49.
Nine plays later, Mask hit Holland at the 5 and the senior wideout muscled his way into the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown play as time ran out in the first quarter.
Sophomore Jordan Knight added his second extra point and Bryant led 14-0.
El Dorado answered with its scoring march. Bullish back J.B. Brazle capped the drive with a 3-yard blast and it was 14-7 with 9:06 left in the half.
And the Wildcats had a couple of opportunities to get closer before the half ended. They got some great field position when the Hornets couldn’t pick up a first down on their next possession. Again, however, the Bryant defense stepped up.
On a third-and-9 from the Hornets 48, Ganus dropped back to pass but was sacked by Chris Taylor.
And, on the subsequent punt attempt, a bad snap allowed Zach Sanders, Aaron Walker and Jared Szabad to haul down Chance Murphy and the Hornets got the ball 36 yards away from another score.
Kellum carried three straight times and would’ve had a first down but the ball was yanked loose on the third-down play and El Dorado recovered.
The Cats drove to the Bryant 28 but could get no further. A fourth-down pass with :20 left, was knocked away by Hatcher and corner Lance Hodges.
In the second half, El Dorado got the first break when a Mask pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted. A 15-yard penalty was tacked onto the return and the Wildcats had a first down at the Bryant 27. In three plays, however, they netted nothing. On a third-and-7 at the 19, Sanders dropped Ganus for a loss and El Dorado had to settle for Murphy’s 38-yard field goal.
Again, the Hornets offense sputtered, however, and they were forced to punt from deep in their own end. Williams boomed a 53-yard kick that pushed El Dorado back to its 24.
The Wildcats drove to their 44 where they faced a fourth-and-1. And with all of their beef, it figured to be no problem keeping the drive alive. But the Hornets stopped Brazle for no gain and took over.
Overcoming a pair of penalties, the Hornets drove to the El Dorado 14 as Mask found the range. His 15-yard strike to Holland converted a fourth-and-8 from the 29. Unfortunately, a pair of dropped passes contributed to a stall there. And Knight couldn’t get enough lift on his 31-yard field goal attempt to add to the lead.
The Hornets got another chance, however, when the defense forced a punt. After picking up a first down, Mask went deep to Isbell who caught the pass in stride down the left sideline. He was caught, though, inside the 5 and stripped of the ball. El Dorado safety Antonio Harris recovered and ran it out to the 24.
In turn, sophomore quarterback Jeremy Gill hit Willie Landers with a 28-yard pass. But Bryant corner Drew Short stripped the ball loose and Walker recovered at the Bryant 40.
After that, the teams traded punts with Bryant getting the better of the field position. On a fourth-and-1 at the El Dorado 39 and just over two minutes left to play, the Hornets took a delay penalty. Williams then booted the Wildcats back to the 10 for their last-gasp possession.
On second-and-10 from the 11, Ganus rolled right and was forced into the end zone where Sanders grabbed him. The El Dorado quarterback kept his feet long enough to toss the ball out of bounds but he was flagged for intentional grounding which, from the end zone, results in a safety.
With 1:48 to go, El Dorado was forced to kick to the Hornets who ate up the rest of the clock with Kellum and the offensive line wearing out the deflated Wildcats D.
Now 1-1, the Hornets were set to play their last non-conference game and first home game — the first of three in a row — against Russellville on Friday, Sept. 16.