BRYANT - The Bryant Hornets ended their 2012 season in disappointing fashion, falling to Cabot at home in the first round of the 7A state playoffs, 28-21. On Tuesday, the Hornets got back to work against someone other than themselves, battling the 7A State Champion Fayetteville and Pulaski Academy in benefit games.
With two 12-minute quarters against each, the Hornets worked on key issues and battled two good teams in doing so. First up was the Fayetteville Bulldogs. Coming off of a 2012 state title, the Bulldogs made the long trek to face Bryant and took advantage, outscoring Bryant 17-7.
"I was very pleased with the games," Head Coach Paul Calley said. "We played two very good teams and I thought all three teams were very well-matched and we accomplished what we needed to."
Bryant opened up with a 15-play drive but moved the ball only 51 yards before turning the ball over on downs. Fayetteville copied Bryant, though in less plays, but still turned the ball over on downs on its first drive.
After forcing a second turnover on downs, Fayetteville got on the board with a touchdown on an 18-yard pass by Mitch Marshall. A good point after and the score was 7-0 Bulldogs early in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs added to their lead with another touchdown, this time a 33-yard strike from Marshall to take a 14-0 lead with 8:22 left in the game.
Bryant finally answered with a long 70-yard touchdown pass from Brandan Warner to standout wide receiver Devonte Howard, cutting Fayetteville’s lead to 14-7 with 5:49 left on the clock.
But with time running thin, the Hornets couldn’t get any closer, allowing a field goal to end the first scrimmage game with the Bulldogs, and former Hornet coach Daryl Patton, winning 17-7.
Warner finished the two-quarter affair with 115 passing yards on 11 of 19 completions and a touchdown. Howard and Brushawn Hunter combined for four catches, 84 yards and a touchdown for Bryant. Running back Brendan Young carried the ball seven times for 28 yards.
“We moved the ball like we needed to offensively and we played strong defense,” Calley said. “We didn't turn the ball over and the only thing that I was disappointed in was some timely penalties that hurt us.”
After a break to allow Fayetteville and Pulaski Academy to go at it, the Hornets took the field for another 24 minutes, this time against the Bruins. After a tough start on offense, going just five plays for minus-2 yards and a holding penalty, the Hornet defense stole the ball back on a fumble recovery on PA’s first play from scrimmage.
But the outcome a second time around was nearly the same, ending on a turnover on downs for the Hornets. With Bryant’s defense holding down the fort, its offense couldn’t get anything going until Warner found Hunter for a 45-yard longball to take a 7-0 lead.
Senior defensive lineman Colton Burton gave Bryant another spark, snatching the games first interception down and returning it for a 17-yard touchdown and giving the Hornets a 14-0 lead.
“That was a huge turnaround,” Calley said. "PA kind of took the wind out of themselves. If we can do that, man, what a plus for us. Any time you can score and then create a turnover and put it in the end zone is huge."
The Hornets continued to dominate PA, adding another touchdown on a Warner to Hunter strike once again, taking a 21-0 lead.
With time winding down and the night coming to an end, PA finally found the end zone, scoring on a 25-yard TD pass from quarterback Will Hefley.
Bryant ended its night with a 21-7 win. The Hornets finished its four quarters of play with a combined final score of 28-24 against two highly ranked teams in the state.
“We really got some pressure against PA,” Calley said. “I haven't seen that happen much.”
Bryant collected three sacks against PA's offensive line. Burton, Tanner Rich and Austin May all brought down the quarterback once.
Warner finished his second half with 113 yards and two touchdowns, completing 9 of 17 passes. Hunter added 102 yards receiving and two scores against PA, bring his four quarter total to 144 yards on eight catches and two scores. Warner finished with a combined 228 yards, completing 20 of 36 pass attempts and three touchdowns.
“Those guys had a big night,” Calley said. “I think, as a whole, offensively we have a potential to be better than we were last season. From what I saw last night, I think we are a head of where we were last year at this time or even at midseason. I think our kids understand what we are trying to do offensively and I am pretty confident in those guys.”
Calley added that he feels his defense will be pretty solid against the pass and should be pretty good against the run.
"The thing that was really good about all of this was that we saw two different style offenses and two very different defenses," Calley said.
The Hornets open up the 2013 season on the road against Conway on Sept. 6. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
"We have had some pretty good matchups with Conway over the past 10 years," Calley said. "I expect the same type of ballgame and out guys expect to win. It is going to be tough to win on the road at Conway because they have really turned their program around over the past three years."