For the second straight week to start the 2021 season the Greenwood Bulldogs eclipsed 700 yards in offense in their wins over Muskogee (OK) and Fort Smith Southside. Last Friday’s grueling home victory over the Southside Mavericks required more than three hours as the two rivals combined for over 1,200 total yards of offense.
The game was also marked by numerous penalties and injury timeouts as several players developed cramps due to the heat and humidity. The game time temperature was around 90 degrees, but tempers were also high on both sides between the two Sebastian County rivals. There were several flags for personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct, and the Bulldogs were penalized 130 yards in the game. There was plenty for Head Coach Chris Young to be concerned about.
"The only positive tonight was getting the win," said Young during his post-game interview with local media. "At times the offense was good, but there were so many mistakes. We’ve got to get better. Our goal was not just to beat Southside, but to get better as a team, and we failed in that."
Despite their uneven play, the Bulldogs did beat the Mavericks, and for the tenth consecutive year, not an insignificant feat. But the game was much closer at the half than it should have been. Then after Greenwood finally got some separation in the second half, leading by four touchdowns, the Bulldogs couldn’t close out the victory, allowing the Mavs to rally with three scores in the fourth quarter to make it very close at the end.
For the first time since the 2019 playoffs, Smith-Robinson Stadium was truly alive again with the sights and sounds of Friday night football, largely unencumbered by the Covid restrictions enforced during the 2020 pandemic. A nice crowd turned out for the home opener and there was a sizable group of Southside supporters on the visitors’ side.
The Mavs received the opening kick, but quickly punted the ball away, a poor kick that sailed out-of-bounds at the Southside 46, giving Greenwood excellent field position on its first possession. It took only five plays for the Bulldogs to score, aided by a pass interference call on the Mavericks that put the ball at the 27.
From there, junior quarterback Hunter Houston fired a strike over the middle that was hauled in by receiver Luke Brewer, who made a nice two-handed grab over his head near the goal line for the score (9:43). Senior kicker Ben Moy added the extra point to make the score 7-0. It would be the first of 14 touchdowns scored by both teams.
After the GHS defense forced another Southside punt, this one rolling to the Greenwood 6-yard-line, the Bulldogs put together their longest scoring drive of the game, marching 84 yards in 16 plays, taking nearly four minutes off the clock. Nine of the plays were runs with Javon Williamson and Dylan Tucker doing most of the work. Jake Glover and Hunter Houston also had a couple of carries. Houston completed five of his seven passes, including the longest play of the drive, a 14-yard toss to senior receiver Bryce Caldwell. Williamson scored the touchdown from one yard out.
But with 4:29 left in the opening quarter, the extra point attempt by Moy was blocked, leaving the score at 13-0. Still, most GHS fans, and perhaps some Southside fans as well, were thinking the game would quickly become another Bulldogs’ blowout like last year’s 42-3 score or Greenwood’s 44-13 win in 2019. It was not to be, however.
The next nine minutes saw the complexion and pace of the game change drastically, with neither team able to find much offensive traction, trading four punts, the last of which was by GHS senior kicker Noah Jantzen, out-of-bounds at the Mavs’ 43-yard-line. From there, Southside quarterback David Sorg guided his teammates on their first scoring drive, reaching the Greenwood 10-yard-line before the Mavericks settled for a 27-yard field goal, trimming their deficit to 13-3 with 7:13 left in the second quarter.
The period dragged on and on as both teams were flagged for penalties and the clock stopped numerous other times for injuries (cramps) and incomplete passes. On Greenwood’s next possession there were three personal foul penalties called on one play, soon followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the GHS sideline when Coach Young objected a little too strenuously. The Bulldogs eventually punted to midfield, giving the visitors good field position to drive for another field goal. The kick was good from 41 yards out, cutting further into the GHS advantage at 13-6 with 3:51 left in the half.
But the Bulldogs finally got back on track offensively starting from their own 20, marching the entire 80 yards on the ground behind the strong running of Dylan Tucker and Jake Glover. Tucker carried for 30 yards, Houston for 17, and Glover for 33 yards on two carries, the last one for 20 yards and the score. The PAT by Moy was good, growing the GHS lead to 20-6.
Just under two minutes remained in the half when Moy kicked off following the touchdown, and Southside made the most of it, scoring in just two plays, the last of which was a 66-yard pass from Sorg to Kent Carlisle for the touchdown. The extra point made the score 20-13 with 1:13 remaining, just enough time for the Bulldogs to mount another scoring drive.
Which they did, almost. From their own 25, the ‘Dogs needed just three plays to traverse 70 yards to the Southside 5-yard-line. Houston completed a first down pass to junior Tanner McKusker at the 30, then connected with junior Aiden Kennon on a mid-range toss that turned into a long run to the Southside 38. Houston then found Brewer on a deep route with the receiver making the catch while falling down at the Mavs’ 5-yard-line.
A pair of penalties followed, plus two short runs and an incompletion before Greenwood used its last timeout with 10 seconds left at the Southside 8-yard-line facing third down. When play resumed, Houston found Brewer in the right front corner of the end zone for the catch near the pylon before going out-of-bounds.
But the nearest official ruled that Brewer caught the ball in the field of play, not in the end zone, and in the confusion, no one stopped the clock and time expired. The video replay seemed to show Brewer catching the ball behind his head while near the goal line and clearly showed he was never touched by the defense and stepped out-of-bounds at the 1-yard-line with several seconds remaining.
The clock probably should have been stopped by the official and Greenwood should have gotten another play on fourth down from the 1-yard-line. Coach Young was clearly not happy with the call, standing and staring for several seconds before doing a brief radio interview and heading into the locker room to rally his troops after a disappointing first half, despite Greenwood’s 20-13 lead.
During the halftime festivities which featured the GHS cheerleaders and band, Dr. Dustin Smith, Greenwood’s Athletic Director, presented a framed jersey #84 to Tara and Dacie Gamble, the wife and daughter of the late Aaron Gamble, who was killed in an auto accident in June, along with his son, Landry, a GHS sophomore. Mom and daughter received a warm and well-deserved ovation from the full house crowd.
The elder Gamble had just been named as the new high school principal and he was a former Bulldogs’ player in the mid-1990s. He started at center for Head Coach Ronnie Peacock in 1994 and converted to quarterback in 1995, making Gamble one of the building blocks of Greenwood’s long run of gridiron success. He later returned as a coach at Greenwood before going into administration. He and Coach Young were hired at the same time and both men coached and taught math.
Senior Luke Brewer, Greenwood’s top receiver, currently wears #84, but the number will be retired at the end of this season to honor Gamble, never to be worn again in deference to his memory and legacy of complete devotion to quality education, to Greenwood students and the school district, and to his beloved Bulldogs.
When play resumed in the third quarter, both teams had regrouped and were ready to go. They combined for almost 70 additional points in the second half, with Southside slightly outscoring Greenwood, 35-34. Mavericks’ quarterback David Sorg really shined in the second half with five TD passes, finishing the game with 430 yards passing and six touchdowns.
The Bulldogs scored on their first four possessions of the half, taking a 28-point lead with 1:39 left in the third quarter. But the pesky Mavericks roared back, recovering a pair of kicks to steal two possessions from the Bulldogs, turning both into fourth quarter touchdowns as Southside outscored Greenwood by a margin of 28-6 in the final period of play.
The ‘Dogs received the opening kick of the third stanza and started their possession at their own 17-yard-line, marching 83 yards in just five plays, the biggest one being a pass from Houston to Aiden Kennon for 51 yards to the Southside 7-yard-line. Dylan Tucker then carried in for the score, the PAT was good, and Greenwood led 27-13.
But the Mavs responded quickly with a seven-play scoring drive of their own. The touchdown was set up by a 48-yard pass down the middle of the field to the GHS 5-yard-line. Sorg then threw the second of his six TD passes for the score.
With the game still close at 27-20, the Bulldogs finally put some distance between themselves and Southside with three unanswered scored over a span of the next seven minutes. The first of those scores came on a 23-yard strike from Houston to Luke Brewer just moments after the same duo connected on a 43-yard pass to set up the touchdown. The kick by Moy was good, making the score 34-20 at the 7:37 mark of the third quarter.
A pass interception by Greenwood linebacker Lui Honkala gave Greenwood the ball again less than 30 seconds later at the Southside 37. After the ‘Dogs picked up a first down on the ground at the 20, Houston and Brewer hooked up again for the touchdown in the back of the end zone. The kick was good, pushing the GHS lead to 41-20 with 5:51 showing on the clock.
But the Greenwood defense wasn’t done, forcing a fumble that was picked off in midair by defensive back Landon Nelms for a short return to the Southside 39. From there the GHS offense overcame a rash of penalties to score again on a one-yard plunge by Dylan Tucker after Brewer caught another pass, this time from sophomore QB Slade Dean for 31 yards to the Mavericks’ 5-yard-line. The extra point try was good, pushing the GHS lead to a more comfortable 48-20 with 1:39 left in the third quarter. Ordinarily that would be enough to put the game away, but this was no ordinary game.
Undeterred, the Mavericks roared back with a vengeance, scoring twice in the next five minutes to put themselves right back in the contest. Southside’s first drive required ten plays and covered 79 yards, aided by a personal foul penalty on Greenwood. The score came on a four-yard pass. The PAT made the score 48-27 with 9:52 left to play.
The Mavs then bounced the ensuing kickoff to Greenwood. It wasn’t a true onside kick, but the Bulldogs could not corral the football and Southside recovered the loose pigskin at the GHS 30. Four snaps later and Sorg had another TD pass from eight yards out, further reducing Greenwood’s lead to 48-34 after the PAT.
Out of necessity, the Bulldogs went back to work on offense, scoring their final touchdown after an 80-yard drive in eight plays, the last two carries by Jake Glover for 29 yards and a touchdown. However, a bad exchange ended with a botched kick attempt and kept the score at 54-34 with 6:25 remaining.
The Mavericks then scored twice more over the next 4:21 to put a scare into the GHS faithful who still remained in the stands as the actual time neared 10 p.m. Southside’s last two scores came on passes of 33 and 11 yards by Sorg and included the recovery of a more traditional onside kick in-between the two possessions.
Leading by the slimmest of margins at 54-48, it was imperative the Bulldogs recover the expected onside kick by the Mavs after their last touchdown, and L.J. Robins answered the bell. The sophomore receiver and special teams’ player grabbed an opportune hop and smothered the ball at the Greenwood 44 with two minutes left in the game.
The ‘Dogs then protected the ball and ran three plays as the Mavs used their last timeout to stop the clock. When play resumed, Hunter Houston took a knee twice to end the marathon contest, giving the ‘Dogs their second win in two outings this season and their tenth consecutive victory over Southside.
After the game, Coach Young addressed members of the local media, and didn’t hold back on his opinion of his team’s play, including his own responsibilities as head coach. “We made a lot of mistakes and a lot of coaching mistakes, and we’ve got to get better, and we will. We’re going to get after it this week [in practice] and get ready for a good Northside team. We’ve got to coach better and work harder, and we’ll have a great week of preparation.
"Give Southside credit because they kept their quarterback clean, and he was accurate throwing the ball and gave us fits all night," continued Young. "The two kicks we lost gave them two extra possessions and quickly turned a four-score game into a two-score game. [Southside] made plays and we didn’t, but we found a way to win at the end, which is a good thing.
“Defensively, we didn't stop them,” lamented Young. “We’ve got to play better on defense. We’ve got to cover and we’ve got to tackle. [Southside] had two turnovers, thank goodness, or there is no telling what would have happened.”
Unofficially, Greenwood actually had more rushing yards (357) than passing yards (348) and running back Dylan Tucker ended his night with over 130 yards on 22 carries. Jake Glover also rushed for nearly 100 yards. Quarterback Hunter Houston and his top two receivers, Aiden Kennon and Luke Brewer, also had big games for the Bulldogs.