Hornets’ Salt Bowl Winning Effort Cut Short

Under the unconventional Saturday night lights of War Memorial Stadium, the Hornets claimed yet another Salt Bowl victory, extending their streak to 13 straight wins* over rival Benton Panthers.

The night was a showcase of two of the top running backs in the state, senior LaTavion “Tae” Scott and Benton’s senior Zak Wallace. Scott ultimately won the bout with 12 carries for 110 yards on the ground to Wallace’s 85 yards in 12 carries as well.

“My goal was to run for two touchdowns and 200 yards,” Scott said. “That [was] really my goal for every game. I almost had 130 yards in the first half, and if we kept playing, I could have gone past that.”

Beginning his third season as head football coach, Buck James was satisfied with how the running backs played in the season opener.

“LaTavion was almost a 1600 yard rusher for us last year,” James said. “We might need to get him involved [in the action of the game] a little bit quicker, but we know he can run the football. LaTavion and [junior] Ahmad Adams both did a really good job of wearing down that defense, and our offensive line opened up some good holes for us.”

The first quarter was a battle of defense and which team would make the first mistake. Bryant won the coin toss and opted to receive the kick off, but failed to convert on the third-down and had to settle for a punt.

However, Benton took a much different approach and converted two fourth and short plays on their first drive, but could not find the end zone. Both teams continued this trend throughout the quarter with neither of them finding the end zone, finishing the quarter on a Benton drive with the score tied 0-0.

“We were a little sluggish at first,” James said. “But after the first couple of series, I thought we played well, and the last four series of the game, I thought we executed very well.”

Switching ends of the field, Benton continued their drive on the Hornet 48-yard line. Just a minute into the quarter, the Panthers broke the deadlock with a 42-yard touchdown run by Zak Wallace. The Hornet special teams were able to block the extra point, making the score 0-6.

On the opposing drive, the Hornets responded with a touchdown of their own, an eight-yard pass from senior Ren Hefley to senior Andrew Hayes. With a successful extra point from junior Grayson Scoles, the Hornets gained their first lead of the night.

Benton’s following drive shifted the tide of the game for the Hornets, as the defensive line forced a fumble, which was then recovered at the 50-yard line. A play later, Scott took the ball to the house with a 46-yard breakaway touchdown run, capped off with another Scoles extra point, which extended the lead to 14-6.

“I didn’t get up at 5 a.m. every morning just to get tackled by one guy,” Scott said. “I give all I have every play.”

The Panthers found a response to the Hornets when, on their opposing drive, Panther receiver Gavin Wells received a 5-yard pass from Benton quarterback Colen Morrow. Benton chose to take the gamble and attempted to re-tie the game up with a two-point conversion. To confuse the Hornet defense, Wells took the direct snap and passed the ball to Morrow to secure the two points.

With less than five minutes left in the half, the Hornets knew that they still had time to produce points. On the drive, the Hornets moved up the field inside the 10-yard line, before Scott put the ball across the line for his second touchdown run of the game. With 27 seconds left on the clock, Benton did not have much time to waste. The Panthers managed their way to the Hornet 35-yard line with three seconds remaining. The Panthers took the chance on attempting a play, rather than trying to kick a field goal, but were stopped by the Hornets defense, ending the half.

The first half ended with the Hornets up to 21 points, to Benton’s 14.

Half-time featured a Panic at the Disco melody collaboration between both of the schools band programs, which also featured a cadence played by both schools drumlines. Following the performance, the Benton dance team performed their routine. Unfortunately, sophomore dancer Madison Freeman had an apparent leg injury, but the routine continued smoothly, as Freeman managed to get back on her feet and make it over to the Panther sideline, to the relief and applause of both teams’ crowds. Half-time continued as planned with the Hornet dancers, followed by routines from both schools’ cheer squads. For the first time in Salt Bowl history, all of the half-time events were completed in thirty minutes.

With the Hornets choosing to receive the ball first in the opening half, the Panthers had the first drive to start the second half. The Hornet defense made another significant play, forcing another fumble, which was then recovered by the Hornets.

On the next play, Hefley hit senior Josh Robinson on a 57-yard touchdown pass. The Hornets, as a team, managed to force a turnover and then score within the span of less than 30 seconds.

On the following drive, panic made its way around the stadium after fans were alarmed by loud sounds in the concourse. Play was stopped at the 9:22 mark, as many fans on the south end of the field darted towards the Benton side of the stadium. Benton and Bryant fans alike jumped onto the field and ran towards the Benton tunnel and other exits to escape the chaos and confusion.

Scott led the team in rushes, with 12 carries for 110 yards and two touchdowns. The Hornets had 303-yards of total offense (138 on 20 rushes, and 165 on 14 completed passes) to Benton’s 235 (121 rushing and 114 passing). Hefley threw 14 completions on 21 attempts with his primary target being sophomore River Gregory, who caught four passes for 61-yards in his first salt bowl.

“At first, I was nervous,” Gregory said. “After a few drives where we didn’t get any first downs, I got rid of my jitters and was just ready to get out there again.”

James was pleased by his sophomore’s receiver performance.

“If you can play, you can play, and River can play,” James said. “He is a very talented young man, and he has worked hard to get stronger, and he know[s] he can catch it in [any situation].”

*2014 Salt Bowl ended in 14-14 tie