(The following article was written by Tony Lenahan, Sports Editor of The Saline Courier)
Another Salt Bowl, another Bryant win. The Benton Panthers were shell-shocked early on Friday at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock as rival Bryant Hornets jumped to a 21-0 lead on their way to a 42-14 rout over the Panthers in front of a crowd of 26,178 at Salt Bowl XX for Bryant’s fifth straight win over Benton dating back to 2014’s 14-14 tie. It gives Bryant a 17-1-2 record in the Salt Bowl (Benton leads the all-time series 24-21-2).
After the Hornets held the Panthers (0-1) to a three-and-out in the first series, Bryant got to work as junior quarterback Austin Ledbetter hit senior receiver Tre’vun Herron for a 51-yard gain, and senior running back Ahmad Adams and the offensive line carried the Hornets the rest of the way with three runs for 19 yards, the last a 4-yard touchdown for the 7-0 lead with 8:08 left in the first quarter.
That would be the first of three straight Adams’ touchdowns on the night as he ran it in from 7 yards on the Hornets next series and 1 yard, after another big gain from Herron, on the third series to put Bryant up 21-0 with 10:38 left in the second quarter. Adams finished with 13 carries for 86 yards and three TDs.
It took a bit for the Panthers to get going offensively as they gained just 48 yard their first three series.
“They’re a really good football team,” Benton Coach Brad Harris said of the Hornets. “They’re really aggressive up front and they beat us at the point of attack all night. We had angles a lot of times and they just beat us off the football. Our sense of urgency was not good. Dragging to the line of scrimmage. I don’t quite understand that but we got to get that corrected and see what we can get done.
“A really good football team against a team showed that we weren’t real good (Friday). We’ve got to make some corrections. That starts with personnel, with us, with scheme, everything. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and figure out some guys that want to play hard and lay it on the line for their teammates.”
Benton would get on the board midway through the second quarter using a 12-play, 72-yard drive which senior D’Anthony Harper capped with a 4-yard TD run for a 21-7 game with 6:29 left until halftime and Benton showing life.
But, the Hornets responded with a 6-play, 91-yard drive capped by a Ledbetter to junior Hayden Schrader 65-yard TD bomb to make it a 28-7 game with 4:22 left. After consecutive turnovers on downs and a punt, Bryant went up 35-7 when Ledbetter found senior Jake Meaders for the third time in the series for an 8-yard TD and 35-7 advantage which held until halftime.
Bryant put the icing on the cake in its first series of the second half using a 7-play, 57-yard drive capped by another Ledbetter to Meaders TD, this one from 19 yards out for a 42-7 lead with just under 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter to invoke the sportsmanship rule of being up 35 points in the second half.
Ledbetter finished 15 of 23 for 321 yards and three TDs without a turnover.
The Panthers added a score late in the fourth quarter when junior Garrett Brown hit senior Gavin Wells for a 16-yard TD to set the 42-14 final.
Brown finished 12 of 24 for 87 yards and a TD, while Wells had six catches for 61 yards and a TD. Harper was the highlight for the Panthers, rushing 17 times for 89 yards and a TD.
“We’ve got to have D’Anthony do that,” Harris said. “If we’re going to win football games, D’Anthony Harper has to be a big cog in our wheel that keeps us turning. We need him to step up and be that senior leader that we need. I thought he had a solid night. He’s going to play a huge role in our success.”
Benton senior defensive back Austin Drewry had two late interceptions for the Panthers.
For Bryant, Herron had four catches for 108, Schrader four for 92 and Meaders four for 80 and two TDs.
This Friday, Benton hosts the Arkadelphia Badgers, the defending 4A champs and 57-22 victors in their season opener on Friday night at Sylvan Hills.
“We’ve got some work to do, but we’re not giving up on them,” Harris said of his Panthers. “It’s a long season and we’ve got to get ready for a good Arkadelphia team next week at home. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. Got to get ready to go.”