The 22nd Salt Bowl between the Benton Panthers and the Bryant Hornets kicked off Saturday at its annual home, War Memorial Stadium before a crowd of 23,186. The 2014 contest ended in a 14-14 tie (before non-conference games were permitted to go into overtime) and Bryant has won by double digits the previous three seasons. Benton came into the game having not been victorious against Bryant since 2005, and the tide was not destined to turn on that streak this year.
Benton received the ball first and got a head start from the 35-yard line after the kickoff went out of bounds. The Panthers were able to move the ball past midfield, but were pushed back to the WMS logo when Gavin Burton brought down Panthers quarterback Stran Smith. Benton was looking at 3rd and 19 from the Hornet 49 but were forced to punt after an incomplete screen pass.
Chris Gannaway got things going quick for the Hornets gaining twelve yards on Bryant’s first play from scrimmage, but a couple of key tackles behind the line by Panthers defensive back Cain Simmons forced Bryant to punt and Benton took over at their own 37.
Bryant got the ball back with 4:48 left in the 1st, and thanks to a key reception by Blake Everett plus quarterback Carson Burnett effectively using his legs, it went 43 yards capped by Chris Gannaway running untouched up the middle to score for a 7-0 lead.
After a fourth and one conversion on some tough running from Brandon Johnson, fellow backfield mate Casey Johnson III caught a screen pass from Smith and took it for a big gain but the play was rescinded due to a block in the back.
Benton was forced to punt early in the second quarter and was able to pin the Hornets on their own 1. Burnett gave Bryant some breathing room earning a new set of downs from the Hornet 14 with some tough running. Mytorian Singleton provided the first explosive play of the game catching a pass over the middle and turning on the burners for a 67-yard score giving Bryant a 14-0 lead with 9:00 left in the half. Singleton accounted for 127 yards of offense.
Things continued to go south for Benton on the ensuing kickoff as it fumbled on its own 27. It looked like Bryant would have another big play on a 29-yard touchdown in the left corner of the end zone when Jordan Knox came down with a diving catch. Instead, a penalty pushed the Hornets back to their own 27 and two plays later they were stopped on 4th & 10.
Starting at their own 22, Smith and Johnson III pushed Benton to its own 41 but could not get any further and was forced to punt. Bryant was held to a no-gain on the punt return but a few plays later Gannaway broke free for a 58-yard touchdown, his second of the game. Hornets now had a 21-0 lead.
A couple of penalties held the Panthers back and forced them into a third and 10 that was converted on a 36-yard gain when Smith connected with Andre Lane. Benton got as far as the Hornet 14, but was unable to convert on 4th down.
Bryant drove to the Panther 44, but Benton got a stop to get the ball back at its own thirty two :39 before halftime. The Panthers went three and out and punted to Bryant, which started from its 48 and got two plays off before the break.
Benton held Bryant to a three and out on the second half opening drive, and the first play for the Panthers was a 28-yard gain: Smith to Donovan Pearson. The Panthers were not able to get a new set of downs and Bryant took over at its 13 after the punt.
It didn’t take long for Bryant to come up with another big play. After a loss of yards, Burnett hit Gannaway on a screen pass left and he broke a shoestring tackle then took it all the way for a 90-yard score extending Bryant’s lead to four scores, 28-0.
Bryant was able to get the ball back quickly and pushed down the field finishing with a 5-yard touchdown on a quarterback sneak by Burnett enforcing the mercy rule with 4:17 left in the third quarter. Burnett completed 12 of 14 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns along with that rushing score.
The Panthers still had some fight left and it showed when Smith to Cameron Harris for 53 yard gain. A few plays later, Smith was sacked by Pierce Kinley and TJ Lindsey for a loss of 12.
Bryant got the ball back early in the fourth quarter with Gideon Motes taking over under center and led the Hornets to the Panthers 34 before the drive stalled on a failed fourth down conversion as a result of a sack.
On the following drive Benton looked to have something going after a 19-yard run by Johnson III to the Hornet 8, but were unable to get it in the end zone. Lucas Wilber got the Panthers on the board for the first time hitting a 25-yarder to avoid the shutout making it 35-3.
Bryant responded quickly again when Tyler Pinney took it 75 yards down the right sideline for the score adding to Bryant’s dominant 42-3 lead with 2:50 remaining. Taking over at its own 24 with just over two minutes remaining and the clock ticking, Benton kept playing tough but were unable to add to get any points.
Bryant (1-0) will host Marion next week. Benton (0-1) will be off next week and back in action on September 10th to square off against Little Rock Southwest in a 7A/6A match-up.
Published by Kyle Sutherland, @k_sutherlandHTP on Twitter