Players, coaches prepare for annual rival game
LITTLE ROCK — With just three weeks until the annual rivalry game between Benton and Bryant, the two teams hosted a press conference at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock to promote the annual Salt Bowl.
Last year, Bryant defeated Benton 45-9 in front of an attendance of 20,206 but Benton holds the overall record of 24-13-1 in the series. Bryant, however, has defeated Benton for the past five years.
Bryant enjoyed its best season since 2004 last fall, claiming its third league title under coach Paul Calley while reaching the second round of the playoffs for the second time in the past three years.
“We are going to be very young and inexperienced,” Calley said. “But I’m excited about the opportunity for these guys to get to play in front of 30,000 people.”
Hayden Lessenberry completed 99 of 154 passes for 1,254 yards and six touchdowns for his first year as varsity quarterback last season.
“We are going to unveil a somewhat different offense and we will be more pass happy than in the past,” Calley said.
Bryant switches from a Pro Style offense to the Spread. Last year, the Hornets were led by all-league running back Stephen Clark who rush for 1,012 all-purpose yards. He signed with Henderson State in the fall.
“In the last three years, we have been a ground team and this year we are going to air it out more,” Calley said. “I think our guys enjoy it. The tempo of the game is a lot faster.”
Versatile senior and two-way starter Dillon Winfrey caught 21 passes for 287 yards and three TDs last fall. The all-state performer returned a kickoff 95 yards for a TD against Conway and has also received interest from Arkansas State.
“It is a lot of feelings in one, it is all crazy,” Winfrey said at the press conference. “You want to win but at the same time, you are just glad to be there.”
Winfrey compared the rivalry of Benton and Bryant to being “like brothers.”
“We are supposed to be arch rivals but we are more like brothers,” Winfrey said. “You hate your brothers, but deep down inside you know you are supposed to like them.”
Also at the press conference was senior Sawyer Nichols, who paced the Hornets in 2010 with 34 catches for 603 yards and three TDs, including a 95-yarder against Benton.
Last season, Benton made the playoffs last fall for the first time since 2006.
“Not everybody gets to play in a game in a game that is this big,” Benton head coach Scott Neathery said. “It really is a treat for us. I know it is special for the kids.”
Benton averaged 19 points per game in 2010, doubling its production from 2009.
“I think we will be able to move the ball this year and might be able to score a little bit,” Neathery said. “We are much better than what we were last year.”