Bulldogs blank Fort Smith Southside, 49-0
By Richard White
The 2017 gridiron season is now underway, and the Greenwood Bulldogs are 2-0 against non-conference foes Fort Smith Northside and Southside. Both wins came at home at Smith-Robinson Stadium. The ‘Dogs defeated the Northside Grizzlies 34-7 on September 1st then shutout the Southside Mavericks 49-0 last Friday.
But statistics are funny things, and can often give a false impression. The Bulldogs have scored only seven points in the second half this season, and that was done by special teams, a blocked punt return for a touchdown against Southside. The GHS offense has yet to score in four second half quarters.
For most ordinary teams that would be an issue of some concern, but not for Greenwood. The Bulldogs led Northside 34-0 at the half and were up on Southside 42-0 at the intermission. The offense scored on every first half possession, six times each in both games.
The first team offense did struggle in the third quarter against Northside before giving way to the second unit. But against Southside, starting quarterback Connor Noland didn’t even take a snap in the second half. In both games, the GHS defense was rock solid, giving up only a late passing touchdown to the Grizzlies.
The GHS defenders were even more impressive against Fort Smith Southside last Friday, holding the Mavericks to 122 yards of offense in the first half and ultimately shutting them out, 49-0.
The win was the 12th consecutive victory over Class 7A opponents for the Bulldogs and made them Sebastian County champs for the third straight year, going 2-0 each season against both Fort Smith schools since 2015. It was also the 25th regular season victory in a row for the Bulldogs, dating back to the 2014 season.
The scoring got underway early with Greenwood receiving the opening kick and driving 90 yards in nine plays, all but three of those coming on the ground. Noland completed two of three pass attempts, including a 21-yard toss to Holt in the middle of the drive.
Getting better after an annoying hamstring issue that’s bothered him since spring, Kenny Wood rushed four times for 49 yards on the possession. But it was Noland who scored the TD after faking to Wood from three yards out. Ennis added the PAT for a 7-0 GHS lead at the 9:34 mark of the first quarter.
After a Southside punt, the Greenwood offense went back to work, scoring after an eight-play drive aided by three Southside penalties. Along the way Noland had a 20-yard run on a keeper and Wood scored the touchdown on a nifty carry weaving his way into the end zone from nine yards out. Ennis booted the extra point.
Leading 14-0 with 5:37 left in the first quarter, the Bulldogs’ defense went back to work, holding the Mavs out of the end zone, stopping them on fourth down at the Greenwood 18. A field goal attempt failed and the home offense took over at the 20-yard-line. Five snaps later the Bulldogs were in the end zone again.
The first play of the short drive was an 11-yard pass completion by Noland to Orlicek. Wood ran for four yards before the teams swapped 5-yard penalties, then Wood toted it again, this time for a big gain of 25 yards to the Southside 41.
After an incompletion, Noland tossed a short, quick pass to Holt, who made the reception and raced down the home sideline, fending off would-be tacklers the last 20 yards on his way to the end zone. The remarkable run after the catch ended at the pylon in the front corner of the end zone for the touchdown. Ennis added the PAT.
Greenwood then led 21-0 as the game moved into the second quarter. Another Mavericks punt gave the Bulldogs possession of the ball at their own 22-yard-line. What followed was the longest sustained scoring drive of the game for Greenwood, 12 plays in 3:23.
On third down, Noland threw to Holt for 13 yards and a first down at the 36. Wood then ran for 10 yards, and two snaps later caught a screen pass from Noland for a nine-yard gain to the Southside 45. Wood then carried four consecutive times to the 25.
Connor Noland then located a new receiver, reserve running back Marc Jones, who reached the 2-yard-line, setting up Holt for the touchdown run on the next snap. The extra point was good for a 28-0 GHS lead.
The Mavericks reached the Greenwood 35 on their next series, but eventually punted the ball out-of-bounds at the Bulldogs’ 13-yard-line, and that’s where Noland went to work.
He scrambled for four yards on first down, then threw to Holt for 11 yards to the 28. Forced to run again, Noland got 21 yards on his next effort, reaching the 49.
After suffering a sack at the 38, he ran for six yards to the 44, and on the next play tossed a deep ball for Holt, who got behind the defender and made the catch at the Southside 15 before running in for the score. Ennis booted the point after and Greenwood led 35-0 at the 2:41 mark of the second quarter.
With the required 35-point lead to invoke the AAA’s sportsmanship or mercy rule, the Bulldogs shortened the game in the second half, keeping the clock moving almost continuously. But they had one more first half possession and one more chance to score.
On Southside’s next play from scrimmage, from their own 20, the Mavericks suffered a pass interception at the hands of junior Greenwood defensive back Aaron Ohl, who caught the ball at the GHS 43 with no return. The ‘Dogs needed only three plays to score their final touchdown.
Wood ran for 20 yards on first down, then got five more on the next play to the Southside 32. Noland dropped back to pass, scrambled away from pressure to buy time, then found junior Josh Barlow open at the goal line for the touchdown. Ennis made the score 42-0 at the half.
Greenwood’s only second half score came on an accidental partially blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown. With the clock running non-stop, midway through the fourth quarter, the Mavericks were forced to punt from deep in their own territory.
The punt block wasn’t on, but Greenwood sophomore Eli Martin was unblocked and got to the punter just as he kicked the ball, which initially drew a penalty flag. Another sophomore, Logan Workman, fielded the punt at the 22-yard-line and return it around the left side for the score.
The officials then conferred and ruled that Martin had gotten a piece of the ball, negating the penalty, allowing the touchdown to stand. Sophomore reserve kicker Jackson Stewart added the final PAT, making the score 49-0.
Statistically, the GHS offense rolled up nearly 500 total yards in the game, 233 rushing and 256 passing. Noland completed 12 of 16 passes for 237 yards. Wood ran 20 times for 170. The team’s leading receiver was Holt with seven catches for 155 yards. Senior Nick Vota led the defense with 13 total tackles, four of those solo.
After the game, Head Coach Rick Jones spoke to members of the media, reflecting on the back-to-back wins over both Fort Smith schools. “They have such a great tradition at both of those places,” Jones said. “When you go to Northside and you see those championships, and think about the football players that have played on that field. It’s a big deal. You hear about the great tradition they have at Southside. We’re happy to be Sebastian County champs, there’s no doubt about it.”
Jones also talked about his team’s outstanding performance against Southside, especially in the first half. “It’s week two and we have a long way to go, but for one night we played good football. I really did not want to let up, because [Southside trailed] 42-7 last week and they came back on [Springdale] Har-Ber. We didn't play well in the second half [at Northside], but I thought our kids hung in there and played well [tonight].”
Jones also saw marked improvement from senior QB Connor Noland. “All in all, Connor and the guys in his posse did a pretty nice job,” said the coach. “They had good protection as well. We’ve got to take strides every day. We’ve got to get better every day.”
"Connor played like I expect him to play every time," said Jones. "He has great feet and he has great speed and he showed that. He is good for a reason. He can throw it and he can run it. Kenny [Wood] ran well. We are trying to get him back to full speed. He looked a lot like the old Kenny tonight."
Greenwood will close out its non-conference schedule this week at Alma, the last time the two long-time rivals will meet on the gridiron in the foreseeable future. After losing the last 12 straight against the Bulldogs, the Airedales have chosen not to renew the contract between the two schools. Game time Friday night is 7 p.m.