Jr. Bulldogs open season with satisfying win at Alma
By Richard White
After closing 2016 on a somewhat sour note, losing to Alma to finish the season with a disappointing 5-4 record, the Greenwood Junior High Bulldogs opened their 2017 campaign last Thursday night with a satisfying 21-6 victory at Alma in non-conference play. The two teams will meet again in the season finale in River Valley Conference action.
Head Coach Shannon Rhea and his staff watched as the freshman Bulldogs scored all 21 of their points in the first eight minutes. Likewise, the Jr. Airedales got their only points in the first half. The first two quarters were relatively penalty-free, but several flags dotted a scoreless second half.
The game was delayed in starting by about 10 minutes. One of Greenwood’s team buses broke down on the short commute to Alma, making a portion of the team late in arriving. But by kickoff the shadows had lengthened on the visitors’ side of Airedales Stadium to provide comfortable viewing for the large contingent of Greenwood parents, grandparents, and other fans who made the trip.
The Jr. Bulldogs received the opening kick, but failed to move the sticks on their opening possession. Quarterback and punter L.D. Richmond then booted the ball out-of-bounds at the Alma 30.
The home team managed to pick up a pair of first downs on two strong carries by running back Logan Chronister, crossing midfield and reaching the Greenwood 42. But the visiting defense stiffened and forced a punt attempt that failed when the snap went awry, giving the Jr. ‘Dogs the ball at the Alma 42.
On the first and only play of the possession, Richmond took his time in the pocket, well-protected by his line, and tossed a deep ball down the left side of the field to a wide-open Hunter Wilkinson, who made the catch and galloped the remaining 20-plus yards into the end zone. Kicker Jonathan Lamb added the extra point for a 7-0 Greenwood lead with 3:09 remaining in the opening stanza.
The ensuing kickoff bounded free on Alma’s end of the field, a problem that plagued the home team throughout the first half. Starting from their own 27, Alma failed to make a first down and punted the ball to the Greenwood 44, setting up the game’s next sore.
On first down, Richmond tossed a short pass to Jase Strozier, who tucked the ball away and reached the Alma 36 after a nice run. On the next snap, the Jr. ‘Dogs ran a double reverse that ended up with a touchdown gallop by Jayden Jasna around left end. Lamb added the extra point for a 14-0 Greenwood lead (:56).
But the final minute of the opening quarter proved to be critical for both teams. Once again, the Jr. Airedales muffed the kick return before finally covering it at their own 15-yard-line. Then on first down Alma put the ball on the ground, fumbling the pigskin at the 11 where it was recovered by Greenwood’s Jordan Hanna.
After an incomplete pass attempt on first down, Greenwood scored again when Richmond connected with Peyton Carter, the team’s tallest receiver, for a catch in the right side of the end zone. The extra point was good by Lamb and the visitors led 21-0 with 18 seconds left in the first quarter.
But that would be all the scoring for the Jr. Bulldogs. Alma then posted its only points just moments later early in the second quarter, reaching the end zone after a 78-yard pass play. The extra point attempt failed, making the score 21-6 with 7:27 left in the first half. That would be the final tally.
After the game, Coach Rhea talked about the team’s travel issues and their season-opening victory.
“One of the team buses broke down and we had probably 20 guys on there,” said the coach. “One of the hoses broke, so we had to wait for another bus to come over [from Greenwood].
“It kind of makes you nervous, but it’s something you have to overcome. I told the guys, ‘Something’s going to happen during the game or before the game that you’ve got to overcome.’ We had to hurry everything and had to rush.
“I thought we started out really well,” continued Rhea. “We’ve got a lot of improvement to do, but I thought we did some good things also.”
Asked about the lack of scoring over the final three quarters, Rhea said, “We had our chances, but we’ll clean that up on the offensive side. We’ll be better. You’ll see great improvement next week. We weren’t at our best, but you don’t want to be at your best in the first game. We’ve got some things to work out.”
As for his defense, the coach was very pleased. “We chased the ball pretty [well]. They’ve got a real good running back and we knew he was the key. But I thought we ran to the ball pretty good and for the most part tackled pretty [well].
“They [scored] on a formation we hadn’t seen and threw a ball right down the middle. We probably weren’t lined up right. But that’s our fault. We’ll get it fixed.”
Looking ahead, Rhea said, “We’ve got Shiloh [Christian] next week and it’s always a great atmosphere going up there. They’re a lot like us [spread offense], and it’s always fun to play [them]. We’ve got a seventh grade game at 5:30. They were needing a seventh grade game, so we’re going to take both teams and play each of them a half.”
Kickoff Thursday night at Shiloh Christian in Springdale is set for 7 p.m.