The Greenwood Bulldogs fell to 2-1 on the season after last Friday’s nine-point road loss to non-conference foe Fort Smith Northside at Mayo-Thompson Stadium. The setback was only the fourth gridiron loss for Greenwood since the start of the 2017 season. It was also the first loss of Chris Young’s head coaching career after 16 consecutive wins. Ironically, Young attended and graduated from Northside High School where his dad, Joe Fred Young, was a legendary football coach.
“I have a lot of great memories there as a kid and growing up as a coach’s son,” said Young when asked about the connection prior to Friday’s game. “I enjoyed my time at Northside and being on the sidelines. But I’m a Bulldog now, and to be honest, it’s been so long, it’s just another football game.
“[The Grizzlies] have a great team. They’re well-coached, [and] we’re just excited to play a good football team to show us what we need to work on before conference play starts,” added the GHS coach. Northside’s head coach is Mike Falleur.
“We had plenty of stuff to correct on film this week,” continued Young, a reference to his team’s narrow 55-48 victory over Fort Smith Southside a week earlier. “We had 700 yards of offense and did some good things, but there were [still] plenty of mistakes to correct and plenty of opportunities to get better.”
The defense against Southside was suspect, compounded by a pair of lost possessions when the Mavericks were able to recover loose balls on two second-half kickoffs, putting even more pressure on the GHS defense. That same defense would be tested mightily by Northside’s powerful running game.
“They’ve got some very talented football players and two really good running backs,” said Young of last Friday’s opposition. “They’ve also got a quarterback that’s a good athlete and can cause some problems. He throws [it] well. They certainly can throw the ball, but they like to run it. It will be interesting to see how they come out.”
Northside was playing only its second game of the season after a bye week before facing the Bulldogs. “They’ve had a lot of time to prepare,” remarked Young in pre-game comments. “Defensively, they just fly all over the field. They’re not huge, but they really get to the ball and have two great [cornerbacks] that are physical.”
Last year’s Greenwood-Northside game was cancelled due to a Covid outbreak among the Grizzlies, and last week’s Greenwood-Booneville junior high game was also lost due to a lack of healthy, available players at Booneville. So far during the pandemic, the Bulldogs have been able to field enough players and haven’t cancelled any games. Coach Young addressed the issue during his interview with the Dog Pound live-stream broadcast crew.
“We’re just trying to follow the guidance of the AAA and our school district,” he said. “We really appreciate the leadership of our administration. They’re going out of their way to make sure we have an opportunity to have kids in school and to play on Friday night. We’re trying to spread the kids out in the locker room and make sure they have their masks on in the building. We’re talking to [them] about being responsible on the weekends and when they are at home.”
After rolling up nearly 1,500 yards of offense in their first two games this season, both victories over Muskogee (OK) and Fort Smith Southside, the Bulldogs found the Grizzlies much more of a challenge on both sides of the ball. Greenwood’s 20 points is the team’s lowest scoring output in recent memory. The defense, while much better than against Southside, still had trouble stopping Northside’s two prize senior running backs, Ty Massey and Sundquist Church. Two critical second half turnovers by Greenwood also loomed large in Northside’s upset victory.
Friday’s opening quarter was scoreless as both teams swapped multiple punts and sized each other up. Greenwood’s second punt was fair caught by the Grizzlies at their own 18 with 2:46 left in the period. Twelve snaps later, at the 9:43 mark of the second stanza, Northside broke the scoring ice on a 4-yard scamper by Massey. The PAT was good.
Trailing 7-0, the Bulldogs responded on their next possession, driving 74 yards in nine plays to tie the game. Jake Glover returned the Northside kickoff for 20 yards to the GHS 26. Three snaps later from the 28, quarterback Hunter Houston found receiver Luke Brewer over the middle to the 44, moving the sticks for a first down.
Forced to run, Houston then scrambled to the Grizzlies’ 39 on the next play. After senior running back Dylan Tucker rumbled to the 33, Houston passed to Aiden Kennon at the 21 for another first down. Tucker then ran twice to the 10 before Houston connected with Kennon again inside the five, stretching the ball across the goal line at the right pylon. Senior kicker Ben Moy added the extra point to knot the score at 7-all with 7:09 remaining in the first half.
The two teams then traded turnovers, starting with a Northside fumble caused by GHS defensive lineman Jaden Fowler and recovered by fellow senior Sebastian Crumb. But the ‘Dogs could not cash in on the good field position at the Northside 42, giving the ball back to the Grizzlies moments later via a pass interception.
Fortunately for Greenwood, the return to near the GHS 10-yard-line was negated by a blocking penalty on the Bears that moved the ball back to midfield, allowing the GHS defense to hold and force a punt, giving the visitors the football at their own 30 with three minutes left in the half.
This time the Bulldogs struck quickly, scoring in just two plays, the second one a 58-yard pass from Houston to junior Tanner McKusker, who was wide open over the middle for the score, hauling in the catch near the Northside 30. Moy’s extra point kick was good, and with 2:44 left in the second quarter the Bulldogs were up 14-7.
But just when it appeared that score would stand up at halftime, the Grizzlies collectively pulled a rabbit out of their helmet. Facing third-and-16 at its own 48, Northside got a big run from Massey, who found a gap off right tackle and raced down the right side toward the pylon for 52 yards and the touchdown. However, the Grizzlies missed the extra point, and the teams went into the intermission with Greenwood still leading by the slimmest of margins, 14-13.
“It’s a good football game right now,” said Coach Young as he was leaving the field for the locker room. “We started off a little slow offensively, [but] the defense played great, then our offense picked up. Obviously, we’re disappointed in that last [Northside scoring] play. But it’s a heck of a football game. We’ll have fun the second half.”
But the second half was anything but fun for the Bulldogs, who could not overcome two huge turnovers while sustaining their first loss since November 2019 in the state semi-finals. Each turnover, a fumble and an interception, led to both of Northside’s second half scores and robbed the Bulldogs of two offensive possessions that prevented them from scoring.
The Grizzlies kicked off to start the third quarter, and Greenwood’s Colin Daggett returned the ball to the GHS 26. Hunter Houston then passed to Aiden Kennon for a big gain to the Northside 48, and the Bulldogs were on the move. But two snaps later the wheels came off the drive when Houston and Kennon hooked up on another big gainer to the Grizzlies’ 35, only this time the GHS receiver lost his grip on the ball and the home team recovered at its own 29.
From there, the Bears got a pair of big runs from Sundquist Church into Greenwood territory, and later converted on a fourth-and-short play at the GHS 20. Six plays later Northside quarterback Walker Catsavis found receiver Julian Martinez for a 3-yard TD pass. The subsequent two-point conversion try failed when Catsavis was sacked by Greenwood linebacker Colt Owenby, leaving the score, Northside 19, Greenwood 14, with 5:15 left in the quarter.
On their next offensive series, the Bulldogs had a more conventional turnover, giving the ball back to the Grizzlies on downs at the Northside 24 after a pair of failed pass attempts. The home offense then drove to the GHS 12-yard-line before kicker C.J. Dickerson booted a 28-yard field goal, making the score 22-14 in the early moments of the fourth quarter.
With time running out, the Bulldogs needed something good to happen offensively, and they got it on their next series, starting with a nice kick return by Daggett to the GHS 40. Three minutes later, Greenwood scored its third and final touchdown on a 4-yard run by Dylan Tucker, ending a methodical 11-play drive. But Hunter Houston was sacked on the ensuing two-point try, preventing the visitors from tying the score with 8:17 left to play.
Trailing 22-20, the stage was set for a classic GHS comeback, but first the defense would have to stop the Grizzlies from adding on, and that’s just what happened, not just once, but twice, as both teams traded punts as the clock counted down to under two minutes remaining.
Getting the ball back with 1:42 left to play, the Bulldogs started at their own 26 and quickly moved across the midfield stripe on a pass completion from Houston to L.J. Robins, a nice scramble by Houston, and a short run by Tucker to the Northside 48. A penalty later moved the ball to the Grizzlies’ 42 before disaster struck the Bulldogs.
On second down, Houston set up in the pocket to throw downfield to the right side, but did not see the pressure coming from the left side of the Northside defense. It appeared the GHS quarterback released the ball a fraction of a second before he was blindsided, but the receiver had his back to the play, allowing Grizzlies’ defensive back Jack Green to pick off the errant pass and return it 63 yards down the home sideline for the touchdown. The extra point made the score, 29-20.
With only 31 seconds left to play, there wasn’t much the GHS offense could do, barring some crazy miracle. The ‘Dogs did cross midfield into Northside territory, but did so without Hunter Houston. The junior QB was shaken up on the interception play and did not return. The game ended moments later when sophomore backup Slade Dean was also intercepted on the game’s final snap.
After the contest, Coach Young offered the following comments about the loss. “We turned it over two times,” he said of the second-half giveaways that determined the game’s outcome. “[But] I thought the defense played well. Those two [Northside] running backs are really good, but I thought our defense gave us a chance to win the game.
“Offensively, we’ve got to finish our drives. We ran the wrong route on that last play,” he revealed. “It wasn’t on the quarterback. We’ve got to call better plays in that situation. It (the loss) will be a good lesson for us. [Northside is] a good football team. They do a good job. Obviously, it’s not the result we wanted, but it does not stop us from getting where we want to go,” a reference to the Bulldogs pursuit of another state championship.
Neither should GHS fans fret, for this same scenario has happened before, quite recently in fact. The 2018 Bulldogs lost their season opener at Northside before going on to win 12 consecutive games, including the state title. If it happened once, it could certainly happen again. And unlike then, this year’s team has almost two full weeks to learn from their mistakes and put this loss behind them.
Greenwood has an open date next Friday before traveling to Little Rock on Thursday, September 23rd for their 6A West conference opener against the Parkview Patriots. The two teams did not play last season due to an outbreak of Covid-19 at Parkview, but the Patriots are on the rise under head coach Brad Bolding, a former GHS assistant coach back in the 1990s. The Pats went 8-2 last season and have several Division-I college prospects on their roster.