Despite the best efforts of the coronavirus and three Class 7A opponents, the Greenwood Bulldogs have reached the mid-point of their 2020 regular season schedule with an unblemished record. A perfect 5-0, they are just 1-0 in 6A West conference play, having endured the cancellation of two games, one of them the league opener against Little Rock Parkview.
The other cancellation was by Fort Smith Northside in week two. Thankfully, Springdale Har-Ber and Bentonville West, both from the 7A West, filled those vacancies. In order, the Bulldogs have defeated Fort Smith Southside, Har-Ber, Choctaw (OK), Bentonville-West, and Mountain Home in last Friday’s conference opener.
Altogether, the ‘Dogs have outscored their 2020 opponents by a whopping 173-50 margin, almost all of those points coming in the first half of each game. Greenwood has made a habit of building big leads early, including two mercy-rule victories. In truth, there probably could have been two others but for the magnanimity of Head Coach Chris Young.
His first year as a head coach certainly hasn’t played out the way he expected, but Young has his Bulldogs atop the Class 6A state rankings and appears headed for another championship run in the post-season. Five more conference games remain on the schedule, and two of them are against top-notch competition. The Benton Panthers were pre-season favorites to win the state title, according to Hooten’s Arkansas Football, and Lake Hamilton is equally talented and unbeaten at 5-0.
While the Panthers (3-2) took some lumps early against some of the best 7A teams in the state (Bryant, LR Catholic), they still pose a serious threat to the Bulldogs. The two teams will meet in Greenwood on October 23rd. Lake Hamilton will host the ‘Dogs in the regular season finale on November 6th. While all sixteen 6A teams will qualify for the playoffs this season, Greenwood, Benton, and Lake Hamilton will certainly be at the top of heap.
Earlier this week, Coach Young spoke with the Greenwood Dog Pound about his team’s most recent win over Mountain Home and looked ahead to the remainder of the conference race. And while the coach had much praise for his players and their accomplishments so far, he acknowledged there is work yet to be done and expressed some concern over a rash of injuries that has plagued his team.
Asked it he and his staff were rested after their long road trip to Mountain Home, Young said, “I don’t know if we got much rest, but we got back to work, and we’re fine with that.” The trip to Mountain Home and back covered about 400 miles with a stopover in Harrison for a pre-game meal.
The Bulldogs were hardly fazed by the journey though, scoring 40 unanswered points in the first half against the Bombers. Kicking extra points after each of those six touchdowns was senior linebacker Angel Hernandez, pressed into service at the last minute, according to Young.
“Our kickers were unavailable,” he said. “We found out at the last minute, but they will be available this week. We worked with Angel at the last minute and got him ready to go. He did very well considering it was a last minute deal.” The coach was unable to provide further details due to privacy concerns.
Another missing starter was defensive end Beau Asher. “Beau is out with a knee injury. He was hurt in the game the week before. We hope to get him back this year,” said Young. “It’s too soon to say. We’ll just have to see how he does. We moved Jordan Hanna down on the defensive line and put Angel Hernandez at linebacker for Jordan.”
Asher is the third defensive starter the ‘Dogs have lost this year. In August, senior defensive lineman Tyshaun Leader and senior linebacker Fletcher Gill were both lost to season-ending injuries. Defensive back and kick return specialist Jayden Jasna and running back Hunter Wilkinson, both senior starters, have also suffered notable injuries as well.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries this year,” admitted the coach. “We [have] three players who were defensive starters at the beginning of the year who were out Friday night. That’s potentially 30% of our defense out. The injuries are a concern, and that’s something everybody is dealing with statewide. Even in the NFL they have the same issue, and nobody is really sure why. But the players had substantial time off and now they’ve come back and we’re seeing more injuries than normal. So we’ve got to do the best we can to make sure our kids are healthy.
“[Jayden] and Hunter played the whole game [against Mountain Home] and [are] healthy. It’s good to have those guys back at 100%,” said Young. The coach agreed that team depth is even more critical now and praised the efforts of several players who have stepped up, though they still have room for improvement, especially among the defensive replacements.
“Those guys are getting better with reps and game experience, but that’s certainly an area we’ve got to continue to improve in,” said Young. “Angel Hernadez played Friday night [at linebacker] and he’s going to get better the more snaps he gets. Evan Williams is a guy we need to get a contribution from. He’s a young guy, a sophomore, that can provide some depth at linebacker. We’ve got to get more minutes out of [junior] Landon Kilgore. They’ve got to be ready when their number is called. With this Covid thing going on, it’s more important than ever to make sure our depth is ready to go.”
Asked if he had any concern about his players not having been tested for four quarters, with the exception of the Choctaw game, the coach said, “We always talk about practicing hard to make games easy. We feel like our kids are in good condition, the way they practice. The thing about not having to play a full game yet is learning to deal with adversity, and that’s something we need to address in meetings and practice.
“There’s going to be a time this year when things aren’t going great, whether we’re [behind] or something bad happens in the game. Obviously, you never know how you’re going to deal with adversity until it presents itself, and we’re going to have to respond the right way,” said Young.
“I was very happy with how our offense came out [against the Bombers]. I think we scored on our first six possessions. Coach [Zach] Watson has just done a great job preparing [quarterback] L.D. [Richmond], and he’s just getting better every week. He’s seeing things well out on the field and he’s making plays. He’s done a great job spreading the ball around to our playmakers, and we’ve got a lot of them. We’ve got five or six different receivers and running backs that might catch 10 balls any night, so it’s hard for any defense to prepare for us, because we feel like we’ve got a lot of guys we can get the ball to that can make things happen,” added the coach.
“We’re taking what the defense gives us and we’re not forcing the ball to any particular player, and that’s nice. We preach it all the time, to take what they give us. I’m a math guy, and I’m looking for a numbers advantage or a leverage advantage. And once we find that, we’re not worried about who we’re throwing to. We’re throwing it to the open guy, and we have confidence in all of our receivers and backs. If [the defense] leaves a guy open, we’re going to throw it to [him].”
Richmond had yet another outstanding performance, completing 16 of 20 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomores Hunter Houston and Joe Trusty also played and combined for six of eight passing for 133 yards. The Bulldogs generated 440 yards through the air. They added 132 yards on the ground, with Wilkinson getting 93 of those on 14 carries.
Among the GHS receivers, junior Luke Brewer led the team in both catches (7) and yardage (152), followed by senior Caden Brown with five receptions for 89 yards. Both players had one receiving touchdown. Senior Jase Strozier and sophomore Aiden Kennon had identical stats, splitting four catches totaling 22 yards each. Sophomore Tanner McCusker had one catch for 69 yards in the second half, and senior Camden Carter had one catch for five yards.
Asked about the work of the offensive line, Coach Young was pleased, but anxious to see more. “Coach [Austin] Moreton has done an outstanding job with those guys. I think they’re getting better every week, but I think we still have room for improvement. We’ve got to finish some blocks. I just appreciate the job Coach Moreton has done with those guys. He has changed the attitude and they’re flying around. They’ve got a little bit of nastiness about them and they are being physical. I just think those guys are going to continue to improve throughout the season.”
Asked to identify a particular player that’s caught his attention along the O-line, Young said, “[Jeremiah] Presson has been really physical up front, but those guys have just done really well as a group,” said their coach. “We gave up one sack [last] Friday night, and that was really on the quarterback and [running] back. These last two weeks the offensive line has been real steady and given our quarterback time. As an overall unit, we’re happy with the progress of those guys.”
The coach then addressed a question about the play of his stellar defense, despite the loss of several top-notch starters to injury. The Bulldogs are allowing just 10 points per game, and some of those points were scored against the GHS reserves. With just a bit of luck, Greenwood could easily have three shutouts among its first five games.
“I think that’s a credit to Coach [Jason] Gill and our entire defensive staff,” said Young. “I think those guys do a great job preparing our kids and have a great game plan every week, and our kids do a great job executing it. I think the difference this year is that we are really able to lock down people in our secondary. I think [Jayden] Jasna and [Colin] Dagget are as good a corners as there are in our league, and now our safeties are playing really well. Tatum [Sadler] and [Hayden] Wells are doing a great job in their coverage, and that allows us to be a little more aggressive up front.
“We have Jordan [Hanna] making plays all over the field, but the rest of those guys are doing their job. Our [coaching] staff sets up the defensive game plan to where they have to run the ball to Jordan. They overload a side and force the ball back to [him]. It’s the combination of a great plan and [good execution],” explained Young.
“I think we gave up 43 yards in the first half Friday night. The disappointing thing was that in the second half we pulled out three or four of those guys, and we play our ones and half of our twos, and we give up more yards than we should have. I think our guys let off the gas a little and maybe their energy level was different, but when it’s 40-0 it may be harder to play with great energy and effort, but that’s what we expect of them. It’s an opportunity for guys to get better and a [chance] to show us what they can do. [They’ve] got to perform better in that situation.”
The coach also lamented the turnovers against Mountain Home. “We turned it over twice in the first half,” he said. “But when we execute and do our jobs, we’re pretty good. But when we stop ourselves, we get in trouble. So we can’t turn it over.” The Bulldogs also had three takeaways against the Bombers, two fumble recoveries and a pass interception.
Stat-wise, Greenwood was led in tackles by Angel Hernandez with 15 stops, five of those solo tackles, followed by senior Tatum Sadler with 14 stops, three of those unassisted. Senior linebacker Connor Marvin had six solo stops to lead the team plus seven assisted tackles. Junior linebackers Colt Owenby and Parker Gill had 11 assisted tackles each, while Jordan Hanna had one solo stop and 10 assisted tackles. Junior nose guard Tyler Crossno had two solo stops and eight assisted tackles while junior defensive back Sebastian Crumb had eight assists and one solo stop.
When asked about areas of his team that need improvement, Young said, “I think we can continue to improve in our kicking game, our protection and coverage and our ability to make plays. That’s an area you’re going to see a lot of improvement throughout the next few weeks,” he promised.
Senior placekicker Luis Morales is expected back this week. The ‘Dogs are also hoping for more from punters Ben Moy and Noah Jantzen, both juniors. Jantzen won the punting job in the pre-season, but was sidelined by an injury, allowing Moy to handle the punting duties so far, though there haven’t been many opportunities. Jantzen is also a talented runner and receiver, but hasn’t really been part of the offensive mix as yet. Jayden Jasna’s early injury issues have impacted Greenwood’s return game, with Caden Brown doing a solid job filling in for his senior teammate.
As for this week’s conference opponent, the Siloam Springs Panthers, Coach Young said, “They played us really close last year in the [playoffs]. They are a very physical football team. I think they do a great job defensively and they’ve got a good quarterback this year. I’ve heard they are better on offense and always good on defense.”
The Panthers own victories over Pea Ridge, Harrison, and Van Buren, with losses coming at the hands of Rogers and Benton. “I don’t think they played very well last Friday night (a 42-0 loss). They got a couple of really good players banged up early and left the game against Benton. They’ve played everybody really well this year until last Friday night. We expect a heck of a ball game up there at their place in a tough environment,” said Young.
“There is a lot of parody in our league,” he continued. “From top to bottom the teams are a lot closer than in the past. I think there are a lot of good teams in our conference, and everybody is capable of beating anybody, more so than in the past. Parkview is still an unknown. They are still undefeated, and I think had their sixth kid get a Division I [college] offer last week. I don’t think they’ve been practicing for a couple of weeks, and you would think it would take them a couple weeks to get going again, but they have a big game with Benton this week, so it will be interesting how that game plays out.”
Lake Hamilton (4-0) was idle last Friday after its scheduled game with Little Rock Parkview was cancelled due to Covid-19 concerns, but the Wolves will travel to Russellville this week before facing Siloam Springs, Van Buren, Benton, and Greenwood over the season’s final four weeks. Van Buren is 3-2 and just one year removed from playing on the 7A level, and will no doubt make its presence felt in the conference race. Greenwood travels to Van Buren on October 30th.