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By Leland Barclay | Photos by Jimmy Jones

LITTLE ROCK — Bryant quarterback Austin Ledbetter lined up in the familiar victory formation to take a knee as the Hornets put the final touches on the masterpiece of an undefeated season.

Bryant scored on three consecutive possessions in the second quarter and made them stand up in a 27-17 win over North Little Rock at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon in the 7A Arkansas high school football state final.

The championship is the third in a row for Bryant, ranked No. 24 in the nation by High School Football America, to become the first school in the state’s largest classification to do so since Pine Bluff in 1993-95.

“I told our coaches that I know how good one felt and how good two felt, I couldn’t imagine how three’s going to feel,” Bryant head coach Buck James said.

“We’ve got a chance to be a four-peat. That gives these guys in the offseason a chance to come back and do some great things themselves. It leaves a legacy. That’s what high school athletics should be about.”

The victory is Bryant’s 30th in a row, the longest in the state’s largest classification since Little Rock High, and then Central, won 35 straight from 1955 into 1958.

Bryant (13-0) finished undefeated for the second consecutive season, which included a 58-21 win over North Little Rock in 7A-Central play on the final Friday of October.

The Hornets can arguably stake the claim as the best in the state since at least the Springdale juggernaut of 2005.

“I saw them play,” James said. “They were a very good football team. The thing I’m proud of is we’ve done it three times in a row. They did it once. They did it with a bunch of college football players. We did it with a bunch of good high school football players.”

Bryant turned the ball over on downs on its first possession at North Little Rock’s 6-yard line.

North Little Rock (12-2) then went on a 16-play, 73-yard drive but ended with nothing after a missed 38-yard field goal.

Bryant scored on three straight series for a 20-0 lead.

Jamarien Bracey capped an 80-yard drive with a 9-yard scoring run on the eighth play of the drive. Brock Funk’s kick gave Bryant a 7-0 lead with 7:21 left in the second quarter.

Bryant’s defense forced a punt, and Tanner Anderson scored on a 7-yard run with 3:47 left in the quarter for a 14-0 lead after Funk’s extra point.

Malachi Graham returned an interception 52 yards to end North Little Rock’s next possession, and Jamarien Bracey immediately scored on a 10-yard run with 2:03 left in the half. Funk’s extra-point try hit the left upright, leaving Bryant up 20-0.

North Little Rock scored with eight seconds left in the half to trim Bryant’s lead to 20-7 on Fredrick O’Donald’s 2-yard run. Liam Selhorst added the extra point.

“Our players really came out in the second half and fought hard,” North Little Rock head coach J.R. Eldridge said. “Our players really felt like they could come out here and compete with them.”

North Little Rock kept Bryant’s offense off the scoreboard and was within 20-14 after O’Donald’s 15-yard scoring run with 7:10 left in the third quarter.

North Little Rock forced Bryant into punts on its next two possessions and trimmed the Hornets’ lead even more on a 22-yard field goal with 9:27 left to cut the deficit to 20-17.

“We were going to have to have another stop,” Eldridge said. “So, being able to get those points then, it was still fourth-and-seven, and get a stop, then we could go ahead.”

Bryant’s offense answered with a 7-play drive that covered 75 yards with Anderson strolling around the right side 25 yards for a 27-17 cushion.

“We didn’t play our best ball game, but North Little Rock had a lot to do with that,” James said. “They showed a lot of character and heart.”

After Bryant’s defense held, the Hornets drove to North Little Rock’s 12-yard line, where Ledbetter took two knees to run out the final seconds.

“To get in that formation to finish the game means a lot,” Ledbetter said. “I’m so proud of this team. North Little Rock played hard. They really studied us. It was a hard-fought game.”

Anderson earned the Most Valuable Player award with 146 yards on 18 carries and his two touchdowns. Backfield mate Bracey added 14 carries for 94 yards and two scores.

“It’s an honor,” Anderson said. “We put the work in.”

On Bryant’s final drive to close out the win, Ledbetter turned to Anderson, who was beside him in the backfield.

“He said, ‘Bro, we need two first downs and I need you to get them,’” Anderson said. “I got them.”

Ledbetter, who entered the game with 41 touchdown passes and at least one in every game, finished 11 of 16 for 127 yards.

“We went to a three-man front to really shore up versus their passing game,” Eldridge said. “We limited them a little bit, but it gave them more opportunities to run. Tanner did a good job. He broke some tackles.”

Bryant ground out 274 yards on 42 carries.

The Hornets finished the season with 3,088 yards rushing and 3,215 yards passing.

“I think our balance is the reason why I’m talking to you right now,” James said. “We could run the football as well as throw the football. I’m proud of Austin Ledbetter. I will go on record as saying he’s probably the best quarterback to play in Arkansas history. The guy’s a winner. He hasn’t lost a game since the ninth-grade year. He’s a leader among men.”


North Little Rock — 0 – 7 – 7 – 3 --- 17

Bryant — 0 – 20 – 0 – 7 --- 27

Second quarter

Bry – Bracey 9 run (Funk kick), 7:21

Bry – Anderson 7 run (Funk kick), 3:47

Bry – Bracey 10 run (kick failed), 2:03

Nor – O’Donald 3 run (Selhorst kick), :08

Third quarter

Nor – O’Donald 15 run (Selhorst kick), 7:10

Fourth quarter

Nor – FG Selhorst 22, 9:27

Bry – Anderson 25 run (Funk kick), 6:23


First downs — 18 — 22

Total yards — 289 — 401

Rushes-yards — 41-205 — 42-274

Passing yards — 84 — 127

Passing (C-A-I) — 7-19-2 — 11-16-0

Fumbles-lost — 0-0 — 0-0

Punts-avg. — 2-43.5 — 2-23.5

Penalties — 5-55 — 5-25


RUSHING –North Little Rock, O’Donald 18-129, Cotton 15-50, Jefferson 4-27, Wade 1-1, Moore 3-(minus 2). Bryant, Anderson 18-146, Bracey 14-94, Ledbetter 8-34, team 2-0.

PASSING – North Little Rock, Cotton 7-19-2 84. Bryant, Ledbetter 11-16-0 127.

RECEIVING – North Little Rock, Stewart 2-42, Jefferson 2-32, Moore 2-7, Glosson 1-3. Bryant, Anderson 4-26, Nichols 3-41, Schrader 2-27, Bracey 1-19, Everett 1-14.

MISSED FIELD GOALS – North Little Rock, Selhorst 38.

Josh Lundy - Hoover
jason hart photo