Bulldogs bring home eleventh state championship

Bulldogs bring home eleventh state championship

Greenwood 41, Little Rock Christian 23

Photos By: Brian Vaughn

The Greenwood Bulldogs are state champions again after beating Little Rock Christian Academy Friday night, 41-23. The Class 6A title game was played at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium in good weather, absent the rain that plagued Thursday’s contests. For some perspective, since 1996 the Bulldogs have appeared in 17 state finals under three different head coaches, and for the 11th time in school history the GHS gridiron program has reached the pinnacle of high school football in Arkansas, and current Head Coach Chris Young has been there for each of them.

Greenwood’s rise to football prominence began under former head coach Ronnie Peacock, who took two teams to the state finals (1996, 2000), winning it all in 2000. Young was just starting his coaching career at the turn of the century before working his way up and onto the varsity staff, later becoming offensive coordinator under legendary Head Coach Rick Jones, who took his Bulldogs to 11 state finals, winning eight titles (2005-07, 2010-12, 2017-18).

When Jones left for an advisory position with the University of Missouri Tigers, Young was elevated to head coach in 2020 and promptly led the Bulldogs to a 10th state title while navigating the difficult circumstances imposed by the Covid pandemic. That team was perfect (14-0) and so was this year’s squad (13-0). In fact, Young and his staff have taken their Bulldogs to the finals every year, sandwiching their two championships around consecutive losses to El Dorado and Pulaski Academy, respectively. At the very least, Young has been a remarkable lucky charm for the GHS football program.

Of course, the ‘Dogs’ head coach has been and is much more than that, along with his highly capable staff of assistant coaches. They include offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Stephen Hogan, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jason Gill, co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Austin Moreton, special teams and running backs coach Josh Holloway, cornerbacks coach Travis Sandifer, safeties coach Steven Thessing, and defensive line coach Hunter Moreton. The junior high staff includes Head Coach Luke Hales and his assistants, Eric Daniel, Brian Sims, and Easton Barrett. All of them put in an incredible amount of time and work into making the GHS football program the best it can be.

Coach Young would also be the first to defer any credit or praise for a job well done, preferring to honor his players and staff for their extraordinary efforts over a long season that began in earnest back in the May with spring practice and continued throughout the summer with FASDOGS and seven-on-seven competitions. And don’t forget the many grueling hours players spend in the weight room getting bigger and stronger during the off-season. Football is truly a year-round commitment at Greenwood.

As for Friday’s affair at War Memorial, the Bulldogs were facing a familiar foe, having defeated LR Christian, 56-39, back on November 3rd in the regular season finale. That victory earned Greenwood the 6A West conference title, a #1 seed in the playoffs, and a bye week in round one. After their short rest, they returned to play against three consecutive 6A West foes in Mountain Home, Pulaski Academy, and LR Christian, beating all three with a scoring differential of 90 points or 30 points per game. For the season, Greenwood won each of their 13 games by an average margin of 34.5 points. It’s that kind of dominance that’s helped the Bulldogs reach the state finals in eight of the last nine years.

The Warriors received the opening kick, but the GHS defense held them short of a first down and forced the game’s first punt to the Greenwood 44-yard-line with no return. The Bulldogs’ offense then proceeded to take early control of the game, scoring back-to-back touchdowns for a 14-0 lead after one quarter. Greenwood then led 21-9 at halftime.

The Bulldogs’ first possession was short-lived, just five plays, aided by a 15-yard facemask penalty against LR Christian. The 27-yard touchdown play came on a pass from quarterback Kane Archer to receiver Grant Karnes, who slipped past the only defender in the area and waltzed into the end zone unhindered. Bodey Steinfeldt added the extra point for a 7-0 Greenwood lead at the 9:18 mark of the opening period.

Greenwood’s second score came on its next possession after another stop by the defense and a poor punt by the Warriors, giving the Bulldogs the football at the GHS 42. This drive was much longer than the first, covering 14 plays, split evenly between a ground attack and the passing game. Running back Brayedan Davis had a big game for the Bulldogs, especially in the second half, and QB Kane Archer earned the Most Valuable Player award after the game.

Archer ran three times in the series and completed all but one of his seven passes, including a spectacular toss to receiver L.J. Robins while both players were heading out-of-bounds. Reminiscent of Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Archer leapt in the air as he reached the sideline and threw the pass before coming down out-of-bounds. Robins made the catch just before he also left the field of play. Archer’s final toss went to receiver Isaiah Arrington for 18 yards to the 1-yard-line before Archer carried in for the touchdown on the next snap. Steinfeldt’s kick was good again for a 14-0 GHS lead (2:26).

The teams then traded punts as the GHS defense continued to stymie heralded Warriors’ quarterback Walker White, who has committed to play football for Auburn University next fall. But Little Rock Christian’s fourth possession finally yielded points as the game moved into the second quarter. The Warriors drove 50 yards in just five plays, the last one being a 15-yard pass from White to receiver Cade Bowman for the touchdown (9:57). A two-point conversion attempt followed, but Greenwood linebacker Riley White slipped through the line and tripped up the Warriors’ quarterback short of the goal line.

Leading 14-6, Greenwood’s next possession ended with a punt, but LR Christian reciprocated by giving the ball up on downs at the GHS 41, from where the Bulldogs started a nine-play drive for their third touchdown of the game. On first down, Kane Archer threw to Grant Karnes for 10 yards at the Warriors’ 49. Brayedan Davis then ran three times to the 26 before a penalty pushed the ball back to the 31.

Next, Archer carried to the 23 on a keeper, then two snaps later scrambled to buy himself some time before throwing to Isaiah Arrington near the GHS sideline at the 15. The shifty junior receiver made the catch, then juked a pair of defenders before racing to the end zone. Bodey Steinfeldt’s kick was good, and the Bulldogs led 21-6 with 4:09 left in the opening half.

Both teams were forced to punt on their next offensive possessions, giving the Warriors the ball at their own 8-yard-line with just under a minute to play. Walker White then completed four of his seven passes to get his teammates across midfield and into GHS territory. A personal foul penalty on Greenwood also helped, moving the ball to the 13-yard-line, from where kicker Greyson Hoover booted a 30-yard field goal on the last play of the half, making the score 21-9.

But it was Greenwood that kicked two field goals for the first six points scored in the second half. After receiving the opening kick of the third stanza – an onside kick by the Warriors – the Bulldogs recovered the ball at their own 35-yard-line. Just over four minutes later, the ‘Dogs faced fourth-and-goal at the LR Christian 7-yard-line. Bodey Steinfeldt then booted the 24-yard field goal to increase Greenwood’s lead to 24-9 at the 7:44 mark of the period.

The GHS defense then came through on the Warriors’ next two possessions, both of which ended with interceptions. The first pick was made by defensive back Landon Nelms on a badly overthrown pass, but the GHS offense turned the ball over on downs near midfield. The second pick was made two plays later by Brady Mackey at the Greenwood 7-yard-line.

That turnover resulted in Steinfeldt’s second field goal, a 22-yard kick, making the score 27-9 (10:28). The biggest play of the drive was a 20-yard run by Kane Archer plus a horse collar penalty that moved the ball to the 50-yard-line. Archer also completed a pass to L.J. Robins for 18 yards, setting up the field goal very early in the fourth quarter.

But Little Rock Christian still had life and scored two more touchdowns in the final ten minutes of the game. The first score came at the end of a 12-play drive aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Bulldogs. The touchdown came on a fluke play, a desperation pass that was deflected into the hands of Warriors’ receiver Jake Field at the goal line. The extra point trimmed the GHS lead to 27-16 with 7:38 left in the game.

The Greenwood offense then responded with another scoring drive of 48 yards in eight plays after recovering the next onside kick attempt on the Warriors’ side of the 50. The Bulldogs kept the ball on the ground for the entire possession, with Brayedan Davis toting the rock on seven of the eight plays, including the 4-yard TD run. Steinfeldt’s extra point was good, making the score 34-16 with just 3:17 remaining.

But the game was far from over, with two more scores forthcoming. The first was by the Warriors on a 5-play 70-yard drive that required just 36 seconds with a pass interference penalty thrown in for good measure. Walker White threw to Tristian Watson for the 25-yard touchdown and the extra point made it 34-23 (2:41).

The game’s final score occurred just under one minute later after a quick strike drive by the Bulldogs, who recovered another onside kick attempt, returning it to the Warriors’ 36-yard-line. On first down, Brayedan Davis rumbled for 15 yards to the 21, then carried again, breaking tackles and sprinting down the sideline before being pushed out-of-bounds at the 2-yard-line. Kane Archer then executed a perfect fake handoff before stiff-arming a would-be tackler on his way to the end zone. The kick was good, making the final score 41-23 (1:43). Finally, Greenwood’s Caden Nelms had an interception in the final minute of play to end the Warriors’ last possession.

Statistically, both teams piled up the yards on offense. Greenwood had 438 yards to 414 for Little Rock Christian, but the two teams did so in opposite ways. The Warriors had 355 yards passing but just 87 yards rushing compared to Greenwood with a more balanced attack of 187 yards passing and 255 yards on the ground. As a result, the Bulldogs also won the battle for time of possession, 30:05 to 17:55.

Unofficially, MVP Kane Archer finished with 187 yards passing on 22 of 29 completions and two touchdowns to go along with 95 yards rushing and two more scores. Brayedan Davis also made a good case for most valuable player with 156 yards rushing and a touchdown, including more than 100 yards in the second half and well over 1,500 yards for the season.

After Friday’s win, Coach Young talked to several members of the broadcast and print media. One reporter asked about the GHS defense. “Yeah, our defense is unbelievable,” said Young. “Jason Gill, our defensive coordinator, and the preparation he does with our defensive staff. When our offense didn’t come through, the defense was able to make some big stops and get the ball back.” Young also praised the work of special teams coach Josh Holloway for preparing the GHS kick return team to handle all the onside kick attempts by LR Christian and Pulaski Academy the week before. Recovering all those kicks gave the Greenwood offense a short field to work with several times.

“It’s awesome,” said Young when asked about winning his second title as head coach. “The excitement for these guys. They work so hard. People don’t see how hard they work. Fourteen weeks they’ve been going at it, and really for the whole year, and to see them finish it like this is special. Our kids knew what was at stake tonight because we’ve been on the other [losing] side the last two years, and that’s tough. I’ve seen the tears. So our goal was to win a state championship and that was really important. Some teams are happy just to get here, but we knew what our goal was. We were talking about winning it, and our kids did that tonight.”

As for MVP Kane Archer, Young said, “He was great tonight. He made plays when we needed him, and I thought he got better as the game went on. [LR Christian] is good on defense and they make it tough to throw, but he was able to find guys open. He’s a player and he made plays tonight. He’s elusive and really accurate on the run. He sees stuff before it happens. He’s a really gifted player and he really works hard. He’s played a lot of football and I’m glad he’s on our team.

Regarding the play of Brayedan Davis, Young has continually praised his senior running back for how hard he worked in the off season to get his body in shape. “How awesome was he in the fourth quarter?” asked the coach rhetorically. “He got in the weight room and worked out with his stepdad, ate right, and he won the game for us in the fourth quarter. He’s probably the most underrated kid in Arkansas. That kid runs so hard. He was our fifth string running back a year ago. But he didn’t make excuses and found a way to get on the field and he was huge tonight.

“We knew we were going to have to run the ball,” said Young. “[The Warriors] play a light box and are a bit undersized on the defensive line and are very skilled in the secondary. We had to run the ball to be successful, and in the third and fourth quarters we were able to run it, and that turned the game.”

Senior receiver L.J. Robins had seven catches for 43 yards and senior Peyton Presson had five receptions for 43 yards. Junior Grant Karnes had four grabs for 55 yards and a score, while junior Isaiah Arrington had four catches for 44 yards and a touchdown. GHS senior center Ryan Shortes also won one of several Brandon Burlsworth awards given to the best offensive lineman on each participating team.

With their eleventh state title since the year 2000, the Bulldogs will hang up their shoulder pads and helmets knowing they achieved their ultimate goal of winning a state championship and being the best in Class 6A, if not in all of Arkansas regardless of classification. Remember, the Bulldogs clearly outplayed 7A state champion Fayetteville in their pre-season scrimmage back in August.

But after so many months of hard work and struggle to get to #1, the players and coaches deserve some well-earned time off for the upcoming holidays before refocusing their efforts on getting a new crop of Bulldogs ready to defend their title in 2024, and several important weapons return next season to form a solid foundation to build upon.

On offense, quarterback Kane Archer returns for his junior season, while two of his top receivers, Grant Karnes and Isaiah Arrington, also return for their senior campaigns. Several experienced offensive linemen will be back as well. The defense will lose several key starters but return one very important player in defensive end Cash Archer, the older brother of Kane. The elder Archer terrorized opponents this season and was often double-teamed to slow him down. He will only get better as a returning senior. Add in some more developing sophomores and juniors and a few talented newcomers from the junior high ranks, and the cupboard is far from bare, especially with reclassification and the reconfiguration of the conferences next season. Once again, the Bulldogs will be hard to stop.

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