LITTLE ROCK – Bryant quarterback Hayden Lessenberry orchestrated a 13-play, 85-yard touchdown drive with 1:40 to go in the fourth quarter that sealed a 19-18 comeback victory over Little Rock Catholic on Friday at War Memorial Stadium.
For Lessenberry, it was better late than never.
In three consecutive offensive possessions in the second half, Lessenberry threw two interceptions and fumbled once, leading to an 18-12 advantage for the Rockets.
“I just kept telling myself, this isn’t me,” Lessenberry said. “I just had to go over to the sideline, regroup, and figure out what I needed to do to lead my team to a victory.”
Lessenberry did just that.
The Hornets found themselves down six points with 5:36 remaining in the game. On a third down and 10 from their own 20, Lessenberry completed a pass over the middle for a 12-yard gain. Later in the drive, Lessenberry worked his magic yet again on a fourth-and-6, and completed an 11-yard pass, setting up the Hornets with a first and goal.
“I was just thinking I have to keep the drive going,” Lessenberry said. “I had to give my guys a chance to make a play.”
Despite the late struggles, Bryant head coach Paul Calley knew he could count on his quarterback.
“That’s the kind of player he is,” Calley said. “He could have set his head over there and pouted, but he’s not that kind of player. When we got to have him, he’s always been there for us.”
On the very next play, senior running back Jalen Bell scored from 7 yards out, putting the Hornets up for good.
“That’s a character-building drive. A season defining drive,” Calley said. “If our kids didn’t believe, they believe now.”
For the third consecutive Friday night, inclement weather caused problems for both teams. Bryant finished the night with four turnovers, compared to two for Catholic.
On the game’s opening drive, the Rockets marched down the field on a time-consuming 17-play, 77-yard touchdown drive, capped by a two-yard run by sophomore D.J. Brown with 4:35 left in the first quarter.
It was the last time the Rockets crossed midfield in the first half. Stout defense by the Hornets forced the Rockets to punt the ball their next three possessions.
Bryant got their first points of the night when the Rocket’s long snapper sailed the snap over the punter’s head and into the end zone, resulting in a safety.
Down 7-2, Bryant found the end zone for the first time on a 10-play, 55-yard drive with 4:05 remaining in the first half. Sophomore receiver K.J. Hill was on the receiving end of a 10-yard touchdown strike from Lessenberry, giving the Hornets a 9-7 lead at the half.
After adding a field goal late in the third quarter, the Hornets extended their lead to 12-7.
Momentum then drastically shifted in favor of the Rockets. The Hornets turned he ball over four consecutive times, one coming from a fumble on a kickoff return. With each turnover, the Rockets starting field position was deep in Hornet territory.
Needing to make a stand, the Hornets' defense only relinquished a touchdown and a field goal, despite the Rocket’s good field position.
“Aside from the opening drive, our defense played lights out,” Calley said. “They kept fighting. I’m so proud of them.”
Unable to put the game away, the Rockets allowed the Hornets one last drive to take the lead.
“Catholic came to play today. They are a very good team,” Calley said. “They fought us tooth and nail and gave us all kinds of problems on both sides of the ball.”
“When we had to have it, we made the plays and got it done,” Calley added.
Lessenberry ended his night completing 12 of his 15 passes for 134 yards with two touchdowns and three turnovers. Bell added 86 yards and a touchdown on the night.
With the win, the Hornets improve to 2-1 on the year. Next week the Hornets will host Benton in the Salt Bowl at War Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.