Chris Young’s record as head coach of the Greenwood Bulldogs remained unblemished last Friday night with a 38-point win over the visiting Russellville Cyclones in 6A West conference play. Young’s first season as a head coach has been anything but ordinary during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the long-time GHS assistant is making the most of his opportunity to pilot the Bulldogs through an uncertain regular season that is rapidly drawing to a conclusion.
Greenwood improved to 7-0 overall and 3-0 in league play, with three conference games remaining against Benton, Van Buren, and Lake Hamilton. Those three contests will determine the 6A West champion and post-season seedings, with all eight league teams qualifying for the playoffs. Due to the pandemic, all 16 Class 6A teams in the state will participate in an expanded post-season with no first-round byes.
After seven weeks, Benton (4-0), Greenwood (3-0), and Lake Hamilton (3-0) are all unbeaten in league play, with Little Rock Parkview (1-1) also still in the hunt. Parkview cancelled games with both Greenwood and Lake Hamilton due to Covid-19 concerns, but the Patriots have a good chance to win out against their remaining schedule to finish 4-1. The three unbeaten teams will sort themselves out over the final three weeks with games against each other.
On the opposing sideline Friday night was former GHS assistant Jeff Weaver, now in his fourth season as the Cyclones’ head coach. But this year’s homecoming for Weaver was perhaps a little bit sweeter, despite the loss, because his father was among three local citizens inducted into the Greenwood Education Foundation Hall of Fame. The ceremony took place on the field before kickoff.
Curtis Weaver joined team doctor Lee Johnson and GHS assistant tennis coach Ken Hamilton as the newest members of the hall, honored for their commitment to education excellence. Originally from West Texas, the elder Weaver, now retired, has been a successful businessman and a key player in the Bulldog Foundation, supporting the GHS football program for many years. He took his son to his first high school game in Greenwood, then more than two decades later watched Jeff become a GHS assistant coach and a head coach at Mena, Little Rock Christian, and Russellville.
“They’re very athletic and have some good skill players,” said Coach Young of the Cyclones in his pre-game comments. “They like to get the ball to the edge, and if they do, we might not catch them. On the offensive line they’ve had some struggles early in the [season], but they’ve made some adjustments and put up 42 points on a good Lake Hamilton team, and actually should have won that game on a two-point conversion. [Russellville] is playing good football right now.
“They are 1-5 but have lost four games by less than a touchdown. They played Benton within seven points, 47-40, and Lake Hamilton, 43-42. We know what kind of team we’re playing, and we’ll be prepared. [Jeff] does things to make you uncomfortable, and that’s his job as a coach, to get us out of our comfort zone.
“But our philosophy is that we’re going to play so fast that even if [the opposition] knows what we’re going to do, [they] can’t get that in to [their] kids so they can adjust. So that’s our plan, to just use our tempo,” said the coach.
Young also talked about the Bulldogs’ defense, still allowing just 10 points per game through seven weeks. “I’ve been very proud of how the defense has played,” he said. “We’ve had some adversity there. We’ve lost some guys to injury – seniors Tayshaun [Leader], Beau [Asher], and Fletcher Gill. The good news is that Beau is going to try to play tonight. We’re going to brace him up and see how he does out there. Fletcher had surgery and we hope to get him back at some point in the season. So the defense has had a ‘next man up’ mentality.”
Following up on Leader, a defensive lineman lost to a season-ending injury in August, Young added, “Tayshaun is a great leader and I’m just so proud of how he’s handled the situation. He’s responded the right way. He’s on the sideline encouraging guys and talking to the young guys, and we’re glad he’s a Bulldog.”
It was the GHS defense that set the tone early for Greenwood Friday night, shutting down the Cyclones on their first offensive possession after the opening kick. Senior lineman Jordan Hanna dropped the Russellville ball carrier for a 4-yard loss on the game’s first snap. Six plays later the visitors booted their first punt to Greenwood’s Jayden Jasna, who returned it down the home sideline 30 yards to the Russellville 37.
Senior quarterback L.D. Richmond ran a draw on first down for a short gain, the passed to junior Luke Brewer, who caught the ball and fought his way to the 9-yard-line. Senior tailback Hunter Wilkinson then got two yards before Richmond passed to Wilkinson coming out of the backfield for the touchdown. The extra point was good by kicker Luis Morales for a 7-0 lead.
A pair of incomplete pass attempts led to another quick punt for the Cyclones, giving Greenwood the ball at its own 35-yard-line. On second down, Richmond passed to senior Peyton Carter for 13 yards to the 50, before the Cyclones were flagged for a pass interference penalty on the next snap, moving the ball to the Russellville 35. Richmond then found senior Caden Brown for a short gain to the 27 before connecting with sophomore receiver Aiden Kennon over the middle for the touchdown. An emerging option in the GHS passing game, Kennon was wide-open near the 5-yard-line for the score.
The extra point by Morales was good, putting the Bulldogs ahead 14-0 halfway through the first quarter, with the home team threatening to run away with the game. But the Cyclones responded with some offense of their own, getting a long kick return and driving 59 yards in 11 plays to keep themselves in the game. The touchdown came on a 4-yard pitch play from quarterback Brayden Whitford to running back Latrell Thomas. The PAT was good, making it 14-7 with 3:17 still left in the opening period. Game on.
But the GHS offense responded with another scoring drive of their own after recovering an onside kick attempt, starting at the Cyclones’ 42 after a 5-yard penalty for an illegal kick. The Richmond-to-Carter connection was good for 19 yards on first down, reaching the 23. Two plays later a shuttle pass to Brown advanced the pigskin to the Russellville 9-yard-line before a penalty and a loss moved the ball back to the 23. But Richmond overcame that with a strike to Carter in the end zone for the touchdown. Morales added the extra point for a 21-7 GHS lead (1:43) still in the first quarter.
But Coach Weaver’s Cyclones weren’t ready to concede quite yet, driving 44 yards in eight plays, setting up a 36-yard field goal when the GHS defense stiffened at the 20-yard-line. The three-pointer came on the final play of the first quarter, making the score 21-10 before the Bulldogs added three more touchdowns in the second quarter for a 41-10 halftime lead.
The first of those scores required only two plays and just a few seconds off the clock, despite a successful onside kick by Russellvile, recovered at the Greenwood 39. But the ‘Dogs defense stuffed the Cyclones on four successive plays to put the ball back in the hands of the home offense at the GHS 40.
Richmond then passed to Peyton Carter for 13 yards into Russellville territory before throwing a bomb down the right sideline to Luke Brewer, who hauled it in near the 15 before streaking for the end zone. Morales made the score 28-10 at the 10:55 mark of the second quarter, but more points soon followed.
After a Russellville punt, returned by Jayden Jasna to the GHS 48, Richmond and company needed nine plays to strike again. Wilkinson ran twice for 12 yards to the Russellville 40, then caught a pass to the 32. Richmond ran a QB draw to the 26, then passed to Jase Strozier at the 11. After a penalty to the 16, the pair hooked up twice more, the last pass covering seven yards for the touchdown. The PAT failed, leaving the score 34-10 with 8:13 left before the intermission.
Greenwood’s final score of the half came seven minutes later after the Cyclones were forced to punt from their own end zone, giving Greenwood the ball at the Russellville 34. Wilkinson had back-to-back runs of 21 and 10 yards to the visitors’ 3-yard-line. With the Russellville defense exhausted, Richmond carried in for the score on the next snap. The kick by Morales was good and Greenwood led 41-10 heading to the locker room at halftime.
The Bulldogs needed just one touchdown to invoke the mercy rule in the second half, and it came quickly after another onside kick attempt bounded out-of-bounds, giving Greenwood the ball at the Russellville 47. On second down, Richmond threw to Peyton Carter over the middle and the big receiver pulled down the high pass and reached the 5-yard-line. Two snaps later Richmond scored from four yards out. The kick made it 48-10 (11:02) and invoked the sportsmanship rule.
The remainder of the second half flew by with a running clock as Greenwood replaced most of its starters and brought in the reserves. But before he left the game, junior linebacker Colt Owenby picked off a Russellville pass in the third quarter. Less than half-an-hour later the game was over and the Bulldogs remained unbeaten at 7-0.
Coach Young spoke to Dog Pound sideline reporter Richie Taylor during halftime, saying, “The offense is playing really well. We’re giving [Russellville] a little bit more than I want on defense, but I thought our defense came back after the touchdown drive and did a good job slowing them down and keeping everything in front. We got them fourth down several times.”
After the game, the coach said, “I was really proud of our offense. Of course, it starts up front with our offensive line, not only giving us time to throw, but also making holes for our running backs. I’m just really happy with their progression and the job Coach [Austin] Moreton has done with those guys. And then L.D. is getting the ball to our [receivers], and we’ve got some guys who can do some stuff with the ball when they get it.
“[The Cyclones] do a good job of spreading you out and throwing the ball. Offensively, they are pretty good, and they make you cover them. I thought it was a good challenge for our defense. It was a good test. We gave up a few more yards than we wanted to, but that’s going to happen when you play good offenses.”
The Bulldogs will now prepare for perhaps their biggest challenge of the regular season when they host the Benton Panthers next Friday at Smith-Robinson Stadium. The 5-2 Panthers were the pre-season pick to win the 6A state title by Hooten’s Arkansas Football magazine, just ahead of Greenwood. Their only losses have been to Class 7A schools Bryant and Little Rock Catholic. Benton also defeated the Bulldogs last season, 45-38.