For the first time this season the Greenwood Bulldogs faced a team with a winning record last Friday night at Benton. Opening their season with three losses against a stacked schedule, the Panthers had won four straight in conference play and were tied with the ‘Dogs for the 6A West lead, along with unbeaten Lake Hamilton.
Friday’s contest began the stretch run for Greenwood (7-1, 4-1), facing the top three teams in league play, with Sheridan (5-3, 3-2) and Lake Hamilton (8-0, 5-0) yet to come before wrapping up the regular season schedule. Greenwood and Benton last met in the state championship game last December, a 45-14 win for the Bulldogs.
But Friday’s rematch was much more of a struggle for Greenwood. With the game knotted 17-all at the break, the Bulldogs had to rally from a 14-point deficit in the second half to tie the game, but it wasn’t enough to avoid the 45-38 loss, halting Greenwood’s two-year winning streak at 19 games.
The conference clash was sparsely attended by fans with the game time temperature a cool 55 degrees with light rain. It was also a tough night for the chain gang and the officials, who struggled at times to keep up with Greenwood’s pace of play. But in the end, too many mistakes cost the Bulldogs the game.
The ‘Dogs were plagued by untimely penalties and turnovers, including an interception in the red zone when they had a chance to tie the score or win the game in the final 19 seconds. But while the loss is a setback, and may cost Greenwood a top seed in the post-season, it does not derail the team’s ultimate pursuit of winning a third straight state title.
The first half was something of a defensive struggle, though the teams combined for 34 points, while the second half featured an offensive outburst accounting for 49 points.
Greenwood received the opening kick, but almost immediately turned the ball over with a fumble at the ‘Dogs 24-yard-line. But the Panthers returned the favor a few snaps later when GHS defensive back Colton Tuck picked off a Panthers’ pass at the nine, ending the Benton scoring threat.
Moments later, a high snap disrupted punter Jackson Stewart’s rhythm and caused a short kick to the Greenwood 33, setting up the Panthers for their first score. The nine-yard touchdown run came five snaps later, including an offsides penalty on the Bulldogs. The extra point kick was good for a 7-0 Benton lead.
That score persisted for the remainder of the first quarter as the opposing defenses made adjustments resulting in three punts and a failed fourth down play. But after the Panthers shanked a punt out-of-bounds, the Bulldogs took possession of the ball at the Benton 41 with 9:40 left in the first half.
On first down Caden Brown got nine yards to the 32 before quarterback Jace Presley passed to Treyton Dawson at the 22. Three plays later a pass interference penalty on Benton moved the ball to the 10. Presley connected with Dawson at the five on third down, bringing up fourth-and-goal.
Head Coach Rick Jones then went for broke, disdaining an easy field goal try, and kept the offense on the field, which turned out to be the right call. Presley rolled briefly to his right, then threw back toward the middle to a wide-open Lazaro Angel at the goal line for the touchdown. Stewart added the PAT to tie the score at seven-all.
But with 7:40 left in the second period, the scoring was just getting started. After another poorly executed punt by the Panthers, Greenwood scored again after a seven-play drive. Along the way Presley passed to Angel for 15 yards and to Peyton Carter for 22 yards.
The lanky Carter made a great spin move and somehow stayed on his feet as he dodged would-be tacklers, almost reaching the end zone. Junior running back Hunter Wilkinson scored the 1-yard touchdown a moment later and Stewart put the Bulldogs on top, 14-7 with 4:10 remaining in the half.
But the GHS defense gave up a 48-yard touchdown run just seconds later, after helping the Panthers with a penalty for a late hit out-of-bounds on the previous play. The extra point tied the score again at 14-all.
Greenwood used up over two minutes on its next offensive series, ending with a 34-yard field goal by Jackson Stewart at the 1:36 mark. The kick was made possible by a great leaping catch by Caden Brown at the Benton 33, followed by a 15-yard run by Wilkinson to the 18.
After the defense forced a quick three-and-out by the Panthers’ offense, Coach Jones had hopes of scoring again before the end of the first half, calling a pair of timeouts to save the clock.
But Greenwood’s next offensive series was cut short by a Benton interception at midfield with 38 seconds remaining. A pair of Benton passes then reached the 21 before a game-tying 36-yard field goal moments later. Both teams retreated from the field at halftime with the score tied 17-17.
The increased offense continued throughout the second half, with Benton receiving the opening kick and holding the scoring advantage throughout. Greenwood never led over the final 24 minutes and even trailed by 14 points early in the fourth quarter, 38-24.
The Panthers grabbed the lead with their first possession of the second half. Starting from their own 23 after the opening kick, they marched 77 yards in 16 plays, mostly on the ground, before finally scoring on a 19-yard pass. The extra point was good for a 24-17 Benton lead.
But the Bulldogs answered right back with a 75-yard drive in eight plays. Presley completed three consecutive passes to start the series, netting 32 yards. Wilkinson then ripped off a 20-yard run to the Panthers’ 23, followed by Caden Brown’s romp to the 11. Presley then passed to Dawson at the four, then on the next snap flipped the ball to Brown for the touchdown. Stewart tied the game at 24-all with just under three minutes left in the period.
Less than a minute later, Benton scored again after a lightning-quick four-play drive. Facing third down at their own 39, the Panthers connected on a deep pass play to the Greenwood 16-yard-line. Their running back scored on the next snap and the PAT put upset-minded Benton back on top, 31-24.
The Panthers weren’t done, however. After forcing a GHS punt, the Benton offense took over at its own 36 with 55 seconds left in the third period. Like déjà vu, the home team once again faced third down at its own 39. But on the first snap of the fourth quarter Benton’s D’anthony Harper rumbled 55 yards to the GHS 6-yard-line. He scored three plays later from the one. The extra point made it 38-21 with 10:19 remaining to play.
Sensing the urgency of the moment, the Bulldogs roared back with a pair of touchdowns within six minutes to tie the score at 38-all. The first score was set up by a nice kick return by Caden Brown to the GHS 42. The series lasted nine plays, including a pair of passes from Presley to Peyton Carter of 20 and 21 yards. Wilkinson then scored from four yards out.
The next touchdown came at the end of a seven-play, 60-yard drive culminating in a 20-yard scoring pass from Presley to Lazaro Angel in the end zone. The GHS receiver battled a defender for the football and came down with it. Stewart was true on both extra point kicks, and with 4:18 left to play the game was tied again, 38-all.
Stifled on their previous two possessions, the Panthers completed a deep pass of 54 yards to the Greenwood 8-yard-line, and the only thing preventing a touchdown was a horse collar tackle for which the ‘Dogs were penalized half the distance to the goal. Two snaps later D’anthony scored from one yard out and Benton went back on top, 45-38.
But with 2:09 remaining to play, Greenwood fans were rightly hopeful to believe the Bulldogs still had time to tie the game or perhaps win it in regulation or overtime, and they were right. Greenwood got another good kick return from Caden Brown to the 36, then drove 54 yards in nine plays.
On fourth down, Wilkinson picked up two yards and moved the sticks at the GHS 47. Three plays later Presley passed to Lozaro Angel for 18 yards at the Benton 23, then to Caden Brown at the 15. After Wilkinson ran to the 10, the Bulldogs called their final timeout with 19 ticks left on the clock.
With a fresh set of downs, they had time for three or four shots at the end zone. Coach Jones admitted after the game that he had already decided to go for the tie and hope to win the game in overtime, but his team never got the chance. On the first snap, Benton defender Cade Clark picked off the pass intended for Treyton Dawson at the goal line on the left side of the zone, ending the GHS scoring threat and sealing the victory for the Panthers.
After the game Coach Jones talked briefly about the loss, giving ample credit to Benton, which had never beaten the Bulldogs in five previous tries. “We gave them an opening,” said Jones. “We gave them a chance.
“Benton did a good job. We scored and tied it up, but we had trouble stopping them. They made plays and we made more mistakes, and that’s what happens. I give them all the credit in the world. They played good, clean football and they beat us fair and square.”
Greenwood suffered three turnovers – a fumble and two interceptions – which cost them two offensive possessions and a chance to tie the game in the final seconds. That’s potentially 21 points taken off the scoreboard, and not many teams, even defending state champs, can overcome those kinds of mistakes against another quality opponent like Benton.
Greenwood’s defense, the strength of the team all season, also endured an uncharacteristic letdown, with all due respect to the potent Panther’s offense. The GHS defense had allowed an average of just over 14 points per game before giving up six touchdowns and a field goal to the Panthers.
The loss knocked the Bulldogs all the way down to third place in the league standings behind Benton and Lake Hamilton, both still unbeaten in conference play. But Greenwood fans shouldn’t get too down, for the season is far from over.
Benton (5-3, 5-0) must play at Lake Hamilton this coming Friday while the Bulldogs entertain the Sheridan Yellowjackets. Greenwood then travels to Lake Hamilton in the regular season finale on November 8th, while Benton hosts Sheridan.
So there’s still a respectable chance the ‘Dogs could end up in a three-way tie for the 6A West title with Benton and Lake Hamilton – a perfect triangle. The #1 seed in the post-season would then be determined by the tiebreaker system. It’s still too early to see how Friday’s loss will impact the rest of the season, including the playoffs.
Statistically, the unofficial numbers from Friday’s game showed Jace Presley completing 30 of 44 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns, with two picks. All five of his interceptions this season have come in the last three games. Hunter Wilkinson had his second consecutive 100-plus yard performance with 24 carries for 111 yards and two TDs.
Senior Angel Lazaro had eight receptions for 73 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Treyton Dawson had 47 yards on six catches, while junior Peyton Carter had 76 yards on four receptions. Junior Caden Brown had 10 catches for 64 yards and a touchdown.
The Bulldogs will host the Sheridan Yellowjackets this coming Friday at Smith-Robinson Stadium starting at 7 p.m. It will be the final regular season home game for Greenwood and will also be senior night.