Will Salt Bowl 2020 turn into a high-scoring shootout?

Could the 2020 Salt Bowl turn into a scoring circus? Could it end up 72-70 or something crazy like that?

That’d be entertaining but it would probably have the defensive coaches for both teams pulling their hair out. Both the Bryant and Benton defenses are a little green and both offenses have a number of returning starters from squads that put up a lot of points a year ago when the Hornets won their second consecutive Class 7A State championship and the Panthers reached the Class 6A State title game for the second season in a row.

In the series, which goes back to 1974, Bryant is 18-2-2 since 1999. The Panthers haven’t won since beating the Hornets in the regular season and in the playoffs in 2005.

As dominant as they’ve been, the Hornets still trail in the series overall, 21-24-2. That demonstrates how lopsided the rivalry was before ’99. The Panthers won 22 of the first 25 meetings.

The game could be reminiscent of the 2017 meeting which Bryant won 49-42.

“They’ve got a very talented offense,” said Hornets head coach Buck James. “They’ve got some guys that have been playing for two or three years and they’re really good football players.

“It’s a big task,” he continued. “And we’re rebuilding our defense. That’s a good match up, their offense against our defense. Then we return a lot of guys on our offense and they have lost a lot of guys on their defense. So, it should be an offensive game for sure unless somebody steps up. But it should be a lot of fun for the fans.”

The standards set by the last two Bryant defenses leave a big challenge for the 2020 Hornets. They may still be pretty good just not up to that level — yet.

“Just a year ago, we had five returning starters on both sides of ball,” James reminded. “And our defense, we had some holes to fill up. We knew that we had some good linebackers and we knew that we could do that, but we had some guys step up. 

“You know if you’re going to have a great program and you watch the teams that have traditionally won championships, those kids find a way to fill those holes,” he noted. “It’s next man up. They step up. They develop a mindset. They accept the role of being the next guy and our kids have got to embrace that.

“When you miss spring football and you miss all the summer and all that stuff, it just puts us behind,” the coach related. “I think we have the guys in place. We’re just not ready right now or they’re not ready to take that role. You know, they’ll start playing and they’ll start picking it up. We see improvement every week in what we’re doing.”

Regarding Benton, James said, “Coach (Brad) Harris and his staff have done a great job. They really have. They’ve been one of the top three teams since I’ve been here. They’ve really revamped that program and have got it on its feet.

“I’ve told Coach Harris the other day that I’ve been in the same shoes. My teams lost two State championships in a row (at Camden Fairview). I know what that feels like. You search for ideas. You search for what you did wrong. You pay attention to detail. And their staff is working tremendously hard to try to get their team to the next level and those kids are too.

“It’s a lot different when you’re being hunted than when you’re the hunter. There’s still a little bit of that. But they’re going to be out there hunting. They want this championship and they want to win the Salt Bowl. They’ve got a very fine football team.”

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