After a rough start to their 2021 season, the Greenwood Bulldogs appear to have turned the corner, improving to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in 6A West conference play with a convincing 37-point victory over Siloam Springs at Smith-Robinson Stadium last Friday night. Struggling with a rash of injuries to key players throughout September, most of the walking wounded have returned to the lineup and they made a clear difference against the Panthers.
Back on the field was junior starting quarterback Hunter Houston, who missed the last two games with a leg injury. Joining him in the offensive backfield was talented junior running back Javon Williamson, who missed a month’s worth of games. Senior receiver Luke Brewer also returned after a one game absence, along with senior starting defensive linemen Tyler Crossno and Landon Kilgore, out the previous two weeks. Unfortunately, senior offensive lineman Corben Webb is done for the season with a knee injury, as is backup lineman Jackson Hudnall for the same reason. Sophomore Ryan Shortes is tasked with filling the role vacated by Webb.
Getting back so many missing pieces was welcome news to Head Coach Chris Young and his staff, but there remains much work to do to regain the rhythm and continuity lost over the past month, that included losses to Fort Smith Northside and Little Rock Parkview. But everything the Bulldogs want to accomplish is still possible over the next eight weeks, including a return trip to the state finals in early December.
The ‘Dogs have picked up back-to-back victories at home over Mountain Home and Siloam Springs the past two weeks, but now must go on the road and face a much-improved Russellville team next week before traveling to Benton on October 22nd. The Benton Panthers (5-1) are one of the teams to beat in the race for the 6A West crown. Greenwood will conclude its regular season at home against Van Buren (4-2) and Lake Hamilton. The Wolves (6-0) are currently ranked #1 in Class 6A.
This past Friday Benton defeated Little Rock Parkview, 30-23, while Lake Hamilton topped Russellville, 42-32. Also, Mountain Home traveled to Van Buren and upset the Pointers, 42-15. The Bulldogs are still very much in the hunt for the league title and totally control their own destiny. If they win their four remaining games, they will own the tiebreaker over both Benton and Lake Hamilton, should one of them tie Greenwood with a single league loss. Only time will tell.
Friday’s victory exceeded the 35-point threshold for the mercy rule, but the Bulldogs didn’t achieve that margin until late in the contest. They threatened to blow the game open with a remarkable second quarter, outscoring the Panthers 26-0 over a hectic eight-minute span. But Siloam Springs scored late in the first half and early in the second to stave off the mercy rule until the final minutes of play. Panthers’ quarterback Hunter Talley almost singlehandedly kept his team in the game.
Greenwood received the opening kick and began its first offensive possession at the home 20-yard-line. The first two plays were short passes from Hunter Houston to Luke Brewer, neither of which played the week before. But after moving across midfield into enemy territory, the drive abruptly ended when a tipped pass intended for Tanner McKusker was picked off by the Panthers at their 46. Ten plays later the visitors lined up for a 30-yard field goal, striking first for a 3-0 lead with 8:50 showing on the scoreboard clock.
Almost exactly four minutes later the Bulldogs retaliated with their first touchdown to take a lead they would never relinquish. L.J. Robins returned the Panthers’ kickoff to the GHS 33 before #33 (Jake Glover) picked up five yards on first down to the 38. The senior running back had a big game for the Bulldogs, rushing for well over 100 yards and several touchdowns. Houston then completed a short pass to McKusker at the 47 for a first down.
After a series of short gains, including a pair of runs by Javon Williamson, also missing for the past month, the Bulldogs found themselves right back at midfield after a QB sack at the Siloam Springs’ 49. Houston then scrambled to avoid another sack, reaching the Panthers’ 41 before another loss left the ball sitting at the 47, leaving the Bulldogs with a fourth-and-16 situation, or so everyone thought. But that’s when things got weird.
The officiating crew called a timeout that lasted for several minutes while they discussed how to handle an apparent mistake in the correct number of downs, talking to both sidelines trying to explain the embarrassing mix-up, which was eventually resolved very much in Greenwood’s favor. Instead of fourth-and-16 it suddenly became second-and-16 at the Panthers’ 47. The head official explained to the crowd that since it was an officiating error, and play had already resumed before the mistake was caught, there was no going back and no remedy for it. So rather than being forced to punt, the Bulldogs were given extra downs to try and move the sticks, which they did. It was a tough break for the Panthers.
When play resumed, Houston scrambled to the 41 before passing to Kennon at the 18 for a first down, keeping the drive alive. Glover then dashed up the middle for the first of his four touchdowns. The PAT by kicker Ben Moy was good, making the score 7-3 at the 4:43 mark. But the Bulldogs were just getting started as they went on to post 33 unanswered points before Siloam Springs finally scored again just before halftime.
The GHS defense flexed its muscles over the next 15 minutes to smother the Panthers’ offense, including an interception in the middle of Greenwood’s big rally. With senior starters Tyler Crossno and Landon Kilgore returning from injuries on the defensive line, the ‘Dogs forced three consecutive punts plus the interception to stymie the visiting offense.
Greenwood’s next scoring drive started at the home 44-yard-line after Siloam Springs’ second punt was downed by the Panthers at the 10:35 mark of the second quarter. On second down, Jake Glover rambled for 12 yards to the Panthers’ 44, then again to the 40. Javon Williamson picked up another first down at the 26 before Houston passed to Bryce Caldwell at the 17. Williamson then ran twice, the second time for nine yards and the touchdown (9:38). A bad snap sabotaged Moy’s extra point try, leaving the score at 13-3.
Another Panthers’ punt soon followed, giving Greenwood the ball once again near midfield at the GHS 46. But it didn’t take long for the Bulldogs to give their many fans something to cheer about. Exploiting a hole opened by linemen Hayden Webb, Jeremiah Presson, Ryan Shortes, and receiver L.J. Robins, Jake Glover took the handoff and found running room through the left side all the way to the end zone, a 54-yard scoring dash. The PAT was good (8:33), upping the score to 20-3.
The Bulldogs’ next six points was set up by the interception. Senior defensive back Levi Russell’s acrobatic leaping catch gave Greenwood another short field at the 50-yard-line. Five plays later the home offense scored its fourth touchdown of the night. On first down, Houston completed a 28-yard toss to Bryce Caldwell to the Siloam Springs’ 22. Glover then ran to the 11, and two snaps later Houston threw to Aiden Kennon at the 4-yard-line. Williamson then scored on the next play. Moy’s kick made the score 27-3 with 6:32 left in the first half, but a 15-yard penalty was committed by the visitors and assessed on the ensuing kickoff, giving the Bulldogs a golden opportunity.
No doubt hoping to invoke the mercy rule by halftime, Coach Young called for a rare onside kick. Teeing it up at the Siloam Springs’ 45, Moy executed the kick perfectly, even recovering the ball himself at the Panthers’ 33-yard-line. Perhaps still unsettled by the onside kick, the Panthers didn’t seem prepared for Houston’s scoring strike over the middle to Aiden Kennon on the next snap. The junior receiver caught the ball at the 22 and raced unhindered for the touchdown. But again, a poor exchange caused Moy’s extra point try to go awry, leaving the score at 33-3.
After 33 unanswered points, including 26 points in just eight minutes, and with 6:24 remaining in the half, the Bulldogs had every reason to believe the Panthers would fold and the game would end with a mercy rule victory for the home team. But Siloam Springs didn’t quit and responded with a late first half touchdown and an early third quarter score to keep themselves in the contest, at least for a while longer.
In the remaining minutes of the second quarter, the Panthers embarked on a 10-play, four-minute drive for their second TD, largely on the strength of a 33-yard pass completion by quarterback Hunter Talley, who later scored from 10 yards out. The extra point made it 33-10 with 2:17 remaining in the half.
Hunter Houston then guided his teammates down the field, deep into Panthers’ territory, ultimately reaching the 11-yard-line with 28 seconds left in the half. Greenwood kept the ball on the ground except for one incomplete pass, but with time running out they went back to the air. Houston’s next attempt also fell incomplete, and his final pass was picked off in the end zone, ending the scoring threat, sending both teams to the locker room at the break.
The visitors received the opening kick of the second half and started at their own 16-yard-line. The Bulldogs were excellent all night in kick coverage. But from the 20 on third down, quarterback Hunter Talley found a gap in the GHS defense and raced 80 yards for the Panthers’ final score of the game. The PAT made it 33-17 at the 10:36 mark. But it would be all Greenwood after that, with the Bulldogs scoring twice more in the third stanza and once late in the fourth.
Greenwood’s first offensive possession of the second half ended with a punt after eight plays, but their second series started with much better field position and produced the desired result. Senior kicker Noah Jantzen’s punt rolled dead at the Siloam Springs’ 3-yard-line, putting the Panthers in a tough spot. Unable to get a first down, they punted back to Greenwood from their own end zone, a kick that Aiden Kennon returned a short distance to the visitors’ 37-yard-line.
The scoring drive required seven plays, most of them on the ground. Houston’s lone pass was complete to Kennon for 19 yards to the 17-yard-line. Jake Glover and Dylan Tucker did all the damage on the ground, with Glover leaping over the pile from inside the 1-yard-line for the score. The kick by Moy was good for a 40-17 GHS advantage (4:13).
Their next score came on the final play of the third quarter, a pass interception and return for a touchdown. With the Panthers moving the ball offensively across midfield, a timeout was called with three ticks left in the third quarter and Siloam Springs at the GHS 42.
When play resumed, Talley unleashed a long pass downfield that was skillfully pilfered by Levi Russell, leaping in front of the intended receiver, his second interception of the game. But this time the senior found running room down the middle of the field, picking up blockers along the way for an 84-yard pick-six.
Elated but clearly exhausted after sprinting over 100 yards on the play, Russell hardly had the strength to celebrate his feat, getting a hug from fellow defensive back Colin Daggett before briefly putting his hands on his knees then handing the ball to the nearest official. Ben Moy’s kick made it 47-17 at the end of the period.
Still fighting, the Panthers put together a 12-play, time-consuming drive to start the fourth quarter, marching from their own 20 to the Greenwood 35 before being derailed by penalties, including one for intentional grounding on Talley that resulted in a critical loss of down. Two snaps later the Panthers were forced to punt, giving Greenwood the ball at its own 10-yard-line after a penalty with 7:19 remaining to play.
With most of the starters still in the game, the Bulldogs then embarked on a 90-yard drive for their final score, sparked by a 19-yard sprint by Jake Glover on first down to the 29. He ran twice more for positive yardage, but a personal foul penalty on the ‘Dogs moved the ball all the way back to the 25.
Javon Williamson then carried twice, including a magnificent run of 37 yards to the Siloam Springs’ 36. Two snaps later Houston ran to the Panthers’ 23 before sliding down. Back in the game, Glover ran to the 22, then Houston threw to sophomore receiver Peyton Presson to the 7-yard-line. Glover then ran twice more, the last time using second effort to score from three yards out (2:43). Moy’s kick accounted for the final of 54-17.
After the contest, Coach Young met with his players on the field, praising their efforts and encouraging them to continue to get better as the team heads into the most challenging portion of its conference schedule. Afterward, he talked with members of the media about his team’s fourth victory of the season.
“It’s great to be home,” said Young in answer to the first question. “We have a lot of kids back we haven’t had [available] in a few weeks, and some of them played really well. Obviously, we still made some mistakes. But the defense improved for the second week in a row, and in spurts we were really good offensively. We’ve just got to be consistent. There were a lot of good things tonight. A lot of kids made plays and we’re going to move on and try to get ready for next week.”
Asked about the efforts of the offensive line, affected by the recent loss of senior Corben Webb, Young said, “We’ve got to continue to work hard up there. They’ve got a great o-line coach (Austin Moreton) and I thought they got after it tonight. Siloam Springs forced us to run the ball and luckily, we had some success.
Asked about the return of the walking wounded, the coach said, “Crossno and Kilgore up front obviously made a big difference. Their quarterback (Talley) and #32 (Brendan Lashley) are two really good high school football players, and their tackle (#66 Jace Sutulovich) is as good as anybody in our league. But we were a little bit better up front and got after them and won the line-of-scrimmage. Other than two drives, our defense played really well, so it’s something we can build on.”
As for the running game, Young praised his tailback tandem of Glover and Williamson. “It’s a good one-two punch,” he said. “They were able to rest each other and give each other a break, and it helped us out throughout the game.”
The coach also commented on his team’s excellent kick coverage against the Panthers, whose best starting field position was their own 30-yard-line. “Coach [Josh] Holloway has worked really hard with those guys the last two weeks. Our kick coverage was awesome all night long. It’s a tribute to Coach Holloway doing a good job of getting those guys [ready].”
Concerning the remainder of the conference schedule, Young declined to speculate much about upcoming games with Russellville, Benton, Van Buren, and Lake Hamilton. “We’ve got a long way to go in conference. We’re going to focus on Russellville [next week]. They’ve got a new team, a new coach, and new program, and we’ve got to figure out what they’re doing and get ready for those guys.” The Bulldogs take on the new-look Cyclones next Friday at Russellville.