Brandon Starks, Trever Hunt and Austin McGehee — three unlikely names that led Pine Bluff from a 14-0 halftime deficit to a 24-21 win over Bryant on Friday.
Pine Bluff (4-1, 2-0 in 7A/6A-South) coach Bobby Bolding replaced starting quarterback Rickey Clements with Starks at halftime to provide a spark. He passed for 142 yards and two touchdowns.
“We just needed a spark and Rickey was just off a little bit,” Bolding said. “Brandon’s a senior and has been here. … He did what he is supposed to do.”
Hunt came in for running back Walter Ashley, who banged up his left shoulder. Hunt rushed for 103 yards in the second half.
“He is a good, little running back,” Bolding said. “He is a shake-and-baker and he will drop the pads on you. We’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”
Hunt knew there was a lot on his shoulders filling in for Ashley.
“I knew I had to step up and had to carry the pill,” he said. “I just followed behind my offensive line.”
But the game came down to the kicker — McGehee. After Bryant tied the game at 21, Pine Bluff drove to the Bryant 9-yard line and Bolding called a timeout with 1.1 seconds left to give McGehee the chance to win it.
A Bryant lineman was able to burst through the line, but McGehee kept his composure and made the game-winning 26-yard field goal.
“Just my entire life summed up that kick. Hard work and dedication,” McGehee said. “I saw the guy and tried to hurry up on it and kicked it high so no one would block it. I’ve made that kick 10,000 times in the six years of doing this in practice.”
The Pine Bluff defense also played a key role in the win. Bryant quarterback Hayden Lessenberry did pass for 204 yards and a touchdown, but he only completed 18 of his 40 passes.
Bolding’s game-plan was to keep pressure on Lessenberry, and it paid off.
“Give credit to the our coaches, they did a good job disguising when we would bring the rush,” he said. “I was disappointed that we didn’t get to him more, but the pressure forced him into a lot of bad throws.”
Lessenberry was only sacked once in the game and Bryant (2-2, 1-1) coach Paul Calley said while the pass protection was good, Lessenberry threw the ball short a lot.
Calley said there were two factors that played into the loss for the Hornets.
“We had our chances in the first I thought to put them away and we didn’t take advantage of it,” Calley said. “Left our defense on the field too much in the second half.”
Out of Bryant’s six possessions in the first half, the Hornets offense only found the end zone once. The Hornets only had 90 yards of total offense in the second half.
Bryant scored on its second possession of the game. The Hornets started at Pine Bluff’s 33-yard line because of a facemask penalty. Tyree Reese capped off the 7-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
The Hornets’ second score came when Clements hit Devarious Rice for a 6-yard pass, but he was quickly hit and Davis Nossaman scooped up the loose ball and went 62 yards for the score and a 14-0 lead, which was the halftime score.
“I told them at halftime to just relax and play because we are better than them,” Bolding said. “I told them don’t pay attention to the scoreboard, because it’s anomaly, because it should be 21-0 in our favor.”
The change to Starks did not pay off at first. Neither team mustered much offense in the third quarter, but Pine Bluff drove down to Bryant’s 39-yard line to start the fourth.
Starks then hit Rice for a 17-yard pass before finding Ashley in the back of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown. It was one of the few plays Ashley was in for in the second half.
The Zebras forced a punt and four plays later, Starks pump-faked and hit Tyrone Payne at about the 50-yard line. He broke free of the tackle and went in for the 69-yard score.
“That was a great play and we needed that spark right there,” Bolding said. “Payne wasn’t wide open and he made a play.”
Starks fit that pass into Payne. All Starks wanted to do is help his team get the win.
“Coach just told me at halftime to keep my head up and stay humble,” he said. “That’s what I did and I am grateful for the win.”
On Bryant’s ensuing possession, the Hornets’ punt was blocked and Brandon Lee recovered at the Bryant 17-yard line.
Five plays later, Kelvin Sergeant rumbled in for a 3-yard score and a 21-14 lead.
Bryant was able to drive 73 yards in its next possession as Lessenberry hit Brushawn Hunter for a 41-yard touchdown to tie it at 21.
After Pine Bluff drove it to the Bryant 9-yard line, Bolding had no problem putting McGehee out there for the kick.
“I was a little concerned because he did not have a very good week kicking,” he said. “But he manned up and got that one done with a man coming right up the middle.”