In a rematch from Week 4, the Fort Smith Northside Grizzlies traveled to Hornet Stadium to face off against three-time defending state champion Bryant Hornets. Bryant took down the Grizzlies 34-17 in the opening game of conference play, but Northside held its own down just 21-17 at halftime then later failed to put any points on the board in the second half. Northside has been on the losing end of a few other close calls this season falling to 2nd-seeded Conway 23-21 along with losses to North Little Rock and Cabot by a touchdown each, the third and fourth seeds, respectively.
This time around it would be a different story though Northside grabbed the early momentum when Jack Green intercepted Bryant quarterback Carson Burnett (one of three on the night) on the sixth play of the game, but were held to a three and out thanks largely in part to a penalty and an 11-yard sack courtesy of Brandon Jones.
“We talked about before the game that we had to eliminate mistakes,” Bryant head coach Buck James said. “We had too many penalties. We had three interceptions and that has been uncharacteristic, but I thought we dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and I told them if we can run the football and stop their run that we would have a chance to win the football game and that is what we did.”
Burnett redeemed himself with a seven-play drive that ended with him keeping it for a short four-yard touchdown giving the Hornets an early 7-0 lead with 7:57 left in the first quarter. The Grizzlies were forced to punt on their next drive, but it only took two more plays to pick off Burnett again, this time it was Zavian Zeffer giving Northside a fresh set of downs at the Bryant 24. The offense stalled again and attempted a field goal that was no good, but a running into the kicker penalty gave them another chance. Saul Rodriguez took advantage of his second opportunity and drilled a 37-yarder to cut into the Bryant lead 7-3 at the end of the first quarter.
The Hornets got moving quick with some big plays to begin the second quarter starting with a 32-yard reception by sophomore sensation Mytorian Singleton that was called back due to a penalty, but he duplicated it on the next play with a 24-yard catch to convert the first down. James Martin gashed the Grizzly defense two plays later for an 18-yard score to put the Hornets up 14-3.
Strong defense continued for Bryant forcing another Northside three and out. Big plays from Robert Hendrix and Chris Gannaway helped Burnett get in for a routine five yard score on third and goal to give Bryant a comfortable 21-3 advantage with 6:33 left in the half.
Defense is something that has defined Bryant for a while and despite multiple departures to graduation last year, James is pleased with the product he has right now. “I’m proud of those guys,” he mentioned. “They’re undersized a little bit up front but they play extremely hard. We play a lot of guys and that makes it competitive, they do a good job. They say ‘you remember November and defense wins championships’…all that stuff is true, and that’s what we’ve told our kids all week long.”
Ty Massey had one of the bigger plays of the game for Northside soon after, sneaking through the heart of the Bryant defensive line for a 23-yard gain, but ultimately could not get anything going as this Hornet defense kept bearing down.
Burnett decided to keep the offense rolling taking his troops down the field for an 11-play, 79-yard drive that Singleton finished on an 8-yard shovel pass as Bryant took a 28-3 lead into the locker room for the break.
Another three and out, plus a bad punt, gave Bryant excellent field position but then to make matters worse, a late hit on Northside gave the Hornets the ball on the Grizzly 14. The drive ended with Burnett escaping trouble and rolling to his left to find Robert Hendrix for the score and 35-3 lead.
Bryant added one more touchdown to the board on a two-play drive that was all Gannaway, bursting for 31 yards to the Northside eight and then putting the exclamation on it giving the Hornets a 42-3 lead and enforcing the mercy rule. Northside quarterback Walker Catsavis and the Grizzlies did respond with an eight-play drive for a score to make it 42-10 with 9:20 remaining, but it was too late. From there, the Hornets gave the back-ups some reps and closed out the game to advance to the semifinals.
Northside ends their season with a record of 7-5 (3-4) and Bryant (10-1, 7-0) will move on to the semifinals to face North Little Rock (12-2, 6-2), a team it has squared off against in the state championship game the last three years, winning all of them.
Article published by Kyle Sutherland, @k_sutherlandHTP on Twitter