Bulldogs start season with convincing win over Grizzlies
By Richard White
The Greenwood Bulldogs began their quest for a second 6A state title last Friday night with a convincing 34-7 win over Fort Smith Northside. The ‘Dogs hosted the Grizzles at Smith-Robinson Stadium and the victory was the 11th consecutive GHS triumph over a Class 7A opponent, dating back to 2014.
Weather conditions were nearly ideal for the September 1st season opener, with a clear sky, moderate humidity, and a game time temperature around 80 degrees. As usual, the home side bleaches were full of fans with a nice visiting crowd on hand as well.
Before the contest, Athletic Director Dustin Smith and Bulldogs’ Head Coach Rick Jones presented an autographed helmet from the team to Kelly Hendrix, a longtime volunteer with the GHS athletic program. Hendrix, who received a warm ovation from the crowd, is recovering from a stroke he suffered earlier this year.
The game itself was a tale of two halves offensively for the Bulldogs. Greenwood scored almost at will in the first half, putting up all 34 points in the first 24 minutes, but failed to score again. Northside’s only score came midway through the fourth quarter. The GHS defense played well throughout the game.
The Grizzlies attempted an onside kick to start the game, but Greenwood senior Zane Harmon recovered it on one knee at the 37 before being bowled over by Northside’s Anthony Travis. The resulting penalty put the ball at the visitor’s 48-yard-line where the GHS offense took over.
After running for no gain on first down, senior quarterback Connor Noland completed four consecutive passes to three different receivers, giving the Bulldogs a first down at the Northside 19. Noland then handed off to senior running back Kenny Wood, who galloped untouched around the right side and into the end zone. Junior kicker Grant Ennis added the extra point for a 7-0 GHS lead at the 10:38 mark of the opening quarter.
Greenwood’s next score was set up by the defense, forcing a quick three-and-out on Northside’s first possession, and a 36-yard punt return by junior Peyton Holt that reached the Grizzlies’ 22-yard-line.
But it wasn’t the offense that scored. Failing to move the first down marker after three tries, the offense gave way to Ennis, who booted a 37-yard field goal for a 10-0 Greenwood lead (7:18).
The defense grudgingly gave up a first down, but then forced another Northside punt that rolled dead at the GHS 26, and this time Connor Noland and the offense didn’t waste any time. On first down, Noland connected with Holt on a quick hitter over the middle at the 36-yard-line.
Holt hauled in the catch and split the Northside secondary, eluding a shoestring tackle at the Grizzlies’ 40 before streaking downfield for the touchdown. The kick by Ennis made the score 17-0 (3:01).
Still struggling to move the ball against Greenwood’s defense, Northside finally crossed midfield with the help of a 15-yard penalty on the Bulldogs. But the possession died at the 48, followed by another punt to the GHS 15 in the first minute of the second quarter.
The GHS offense moved the sticks steadily down the field, but had only three plays of over 10 yards. Kenny Wood got 13 yards on first down to the 28, and six snaps later Noland scrambled for 10 yards to the Northside 46. Two plays later Noland passed to junior receiver Josh Barlow for 14 yards at the Grizzlies’ 33-yard-line.
But when the drive fizzled out at the 15, Ennis entered the game for his second field goal try, putting it between the uprights from 32 yards out for a 20-0 Greenwood lead with 8:09 left in the first half.
The GHS defense continued to shine on Northside’s next possession after a mishandled kickoff put the ball at the Grizzlies’ 2-yard-line. The visitors then escaped their perilous field position on first down when quarterback Derrick Wise scrambled for 20 yards, giving his team some breathing room.
But two plays later Wise was picked off by Greenwood defensive back Dylan Vota. The senior snagged the errant pass at the Northside 36 and returned it to the 31, setting up the Bulldogs’ next score.
On first down, before the visitors could recover from the shock of the turnover, Connor Noland handed the ball to Peyton Holt, who quickly pulled up and launched a perfect pass downfield to a wide open Kade Orlicek.
The senior receiver caught the ball unimpeded inside the 5-yard-line and trotted in for the touchdown. The extra point was good by Ennis for a 27-0 GHS lead (6:57).
Greenwood had one more possession in the first half after a great Northside punt put the ball at the GHS 16 with 4:54 left, and the ‘Dogs would use all but two seconds of the remaining time.
On first down Noland passed to Holt for 13 yards to the 29. Two snaps later, Holt got the handoff and ran for nine yards to the 39, before junior running back Marc Jones rumbled down to the Grizzlies’ 47 for a first down.
Kenny Wood carried to the 41 on the next snap, before a pair of Northside penalties moved the ball to the 33. Noland completed a short pass to Orlicek at the 29, then Wood ran again to the 26.
A holding penalty negated a nice gain by Holt, putting the ball back at the 36, threatening to halt the drive. But Noland passed to Zane Harmon for 12 yards at the 24, before Wood picked up a first down at the 19.
Wood ran again to the 14, then caught a pass at the 10, setting up a second consecutive fourth-and-one situation. After a Greenwood timeout with 24 ticks remaining, Wood carried to the 4-yard-line for first-and-goal.
It took three more snaps and another timeout, but the Bulldogs finally scored on a 3-yard pass from Noland to Harmon with two seconds left in the half. Rolling nimbly to his right, Noland used his feet to buy some time until spotting Harmon in the end zone. Ennis added the extra point, making the halftime score 34-0.
Unfortunately, and surprisingly, that was all the scoring for Greenwood in the game. Ennis missed a third field goal attempt, this one from 43 yards out, on the Bulldogs’ first possession of the third quarter. By early in the fourth quarter Noland was out of the game, replaced by Easton Barrett.
But while the offense sputtered, the defense continued to excel, forcing Northside to punt again and again. The Grizzlies had just four first downs in the first half and did not gain their 100th yard until well into the second half. The Bears finished with just 189 yards of total offense.
The Northsiders finally scored with 5:32 left to play on a 57-yard pass from Wise to running back J.T. Thorne. The PAT made the final score 34-7.
For Greenwood, Noland completed 20 of 31 pass attempts for 217 yards and three touchdowns. His leading receiver was Peyton Holt with eight catches for 133 yards. Zane Harmon (5/32), Kade Orlicek (3/42), Josh Barlow (2/27), and Kenny Wood (2/7) also had multiple receptions.
Wood saw limited action, slowed since the spring with a sore hamstring, but led the team in rushing with 59 yards on 11 carries, followed by Marc Jones with 44 yards on eight touches. Senior Jackson Webb also had four carries for 25 yards.
On defense, junior Aaron Ohl, seniors Nick and Dylan Vota, and senior Jon Womack led the team with three unassisted tackles each, while senior Hunter Webb added two solo stops. Nick Vota also had 11 assisted tackles while Webb and senior Camden Beshears both had eight. Womack and Dylan Vota added seven assists each.
“I thought our defense played awesome,” said Coach Jones after the game. “We were worried about the [Northside] quarterback. He’s so dangerous running the football, and we know we are not able to catch him if he gets loose, so I was really proud. They played disciplined. I was very pleased with the way they played. We missed a few tackles, [but] the coaches did a good job getting those guys ready.
“I felt all along we were going to be pretty good on defense,” said Jones. “We’re not there yet, but we have [an] opportunity to have a really good defense.” The Bulldogs have about half of last year’s starters returning on defense this season.
Offensively, it was a mixed bag for Jones, now in his 14th season at the helm of the Bulldogs. "The kids executed awesome in the first half. We played really good football the first half. We ran it, we threw it, we caught it, we played great defense and the kicking game was solid," he said. “We’ve just got to make sure we do that for a full 48 minutes.
"I was so disappointed," he continued, referring to his team’s second half offensive performance. "We played so well in the first half, but it’s not a two-quarter game. We come out in the second half and we were flat. It is all about focus, concentration, and energy, and we’ll take care of that. We’ll be working on that in practice next week I’m sure.”
Asked about the play of his quarterback, Jones said, “Connor did some things with his feet, making people miss. He did not grip it and rip it like I want him too, but he had a nice night. He was very accurate and scrambled around to buy himself time. He played okay, but I think he’ll play a lot better.”
The coach also talked about the game’s top receiver. “Peyton [Holt] had a big night. He’s a good football player. He can do a lot of stuff in the kicking game and running and catching the ball. He’s a really talented young man and we’re really pleased with the progress that he’s made,” said Jones.
Concerning his use of multiple running backs during the game, the coach said, “We’re just doing the best we can. Maybe one of these days one of them will step up and be the guy, but until then we’ll just play everybody.”
The Bulldogs will stay home again this week and host the Mavericks of Fort Smith Southside, another Class 7A team. The Mavs opened their season last week at Springdale Har-Ber, losing 48-35 to the top ranked team in 7A, and now must play on the road at Greenwood, the state’s top ranked 6A school.
The Bulldogs have won five straight contests against Southside and are favored to make it six in a row. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Smith-Robinson Stadium.