After enjoying a bye week during the first round of the playoffs, the Greenwood Bulldogs returned to action last Friday night at home against the Russellville Cyclones, winning handily, 42-7. It was the second win over Russellville this season. Just four weeks earlier, on October 21st, the Bulldogs topped the Cyclones, 42-21. That game was played on the road at Russellville and both teams are members of the 5A West conference.
After going 4-0 in week one of the playoffs, the 5A West went 2-4 in week two with Greenwood and Pulaski Academy as the winners and Russellville, Little Rock Christian, Mountain Home, and Lake Hamilton losing. Four of those six teams were playing other 5A West members. Besides Greenwood’s win over Russellville, Pulaski Academy defeated Mountain Home.
Other Class 6A results from last Friday included Benton over Lake Hamilton, 31-0, LR Catholic over LR Christian, 26-23, and Pulaski Academy over Mountain Home, 52-33. The state semifinals next Friday will feature Benton (9-2) at Greenwood’s Smith-Robinson Stadium (9-2) and Pulaski Academy (10-1) against Little Rock Catholic (11-0) at War Memorial Stadium. The winner of those two contests will meet in the 6A state championship game on Saturday, December 3rd at 6:30 p.m. at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium. The Bulldogs have appeared in six of the last season title games, winning half of them.
After finishing the regular season with an 8-2 record, 7-1 in conference play, Greenwood earned a #1 seed, a first-round bye, and home field advantage through the semifinals. Taking some time off and getting healthy during the bye week, the Bulldogs returned to Smith-Robinson Stadium rested and ready to begin their journey back to the title game. Unlike their earlier regular season game with Russellville, the ‘Dogs took care of business early, building a 34-0 halftime lead.
Greenwood won the coin toss and elected to kick to start the game. But the GHS defense was up to the task, limiting the Cyclones to one first down before junior defensive back Landon Nelms picked off a Russellville pass attempt at midfield. Unfortunately, his 20-yard return was nullified by a penalty, putting the ball at the visitors’ 44-yard-line.
Senior quarterback Hunter Houston then led his teammates on a methodical and time-consuming 13-play drive for the game’s first score, overcoming a pair of holding penalties along the way. Big plays included a pass from Houston to senior receiver Aiden Kennon for 14 yards and a 15-yard toss to sophomore receiver Grant Karnes.
A scoring pass to sophomore Isaiah Arrington was brought back due to a penalty, followed by a second holding call, pushing the Bulldogs back to the Russellville 34-yard-line. But Houston and company quickly erased those mistakes with a strike to sophomore receiver L.J. Robins near the five-yard line. A face mask penalty on the tackle moved the ball inside the 3-yard-line. Houston then scored on a sprint off left tackle. Junior kicker Bodey Steinfeldt added the extra point making it 7-0 (5:29).
Greenwood also scored on its second possession of the game. After forcing a Cyclones’ punt, the Bulldogs took over at their own 22. The home team then embarked on a nine-play drive that ended with a 36-yard touchdown pass from Houston to Arrington on fourth-down-and-six. It was Arrington’s second catch of the possession.
The talented sophomore has earned more playing time as the season has unfolded, some at receiver and some at defensive back. But with the injury to Peyton Presson in the regular season finale at Little Rock Christian, Arrington will continue to see considerable time at receiver. Robins, Kennon, and Karnes also caught passes during the drive. The extra point kick made the score 14-0 (2:03).
The GHS defense continued to stymie the Russellville offense, forcing back-to-back punts sandwiched around a Greenwood fumble as the game moved into the second period. Starting from their own 28, the Bulldogs struck quickly on a short swing pass from Houston to Robins on first down, with the latter gaining the sideline and sprinting away from the defensive pursuit for the 72-yard score. Steinfeldt’s kick was good for a 21-0 GHS lead (11:41).
Another pass interception set up Greenwood’s next score, this one by junior Braden Skaggs near the sideline at the Russellville 44. After reaching the 37, Houston passed to Robins who turned it into a nice gain, made even better when the Cyclones were flagged for a horse collar tackle, moving the ball to the 13.
Consecutive penalties on Greenwood pushed the ball back to the 27, but Robins caught a pass that reached the 15, junior Noah Chaser made a catch at the 11, and Houston found Robins again for the score in the right side of the end zone. The extra point was good with 8:43 left in the half, putting the Bulldogs up by four touchdowns, 28-0.
The two teams then traded turnovers – both interceptions – over the next few minutes before the Bulldogs struck for their fifth score of the first half. Greenwood’s Landon Nelms snagged his second pick of the game at the GHS 25, ending the Cyclones’ first serious scoring threat. But Houston was later pressured and threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted at the Russellville 22.
Then with 3:19 left in the second quarter, the Bulldogs forced yet another Cyclones’ punt and proceeded to drive for their final score of the half, hoping to invoke the 35-point sportsmanship rule before the break. But a blocked extra point kick foiled those plans, temporarily delaying the implementation of the mercy rule, but only for a short while.
Starting from their own 21, the Bulldogs got some excellent work from junior running back Brayedan Davis, who carried four times for about 35 yards on the drive. Houston passed to Chaser for 10 yards before connecting with Robins again for the 12-yard scoring catch in the end zone (:32). The Cyclones were also flagged 15 yards for another facemask penalty. Leading 34-0 at the half, the Bulldogs headed to their locker room assured of moving on in the playoffs.
When play resumed in the mid-November cold, Greenwood received the opening kick of the third quarter and quickly put the game away with their final touchdown, invoking the mercy rule and speeding up the second half clock. Starting from their own 16 after the kickoff and a penalty, the ‘Dogs needed just seven plays to put the game on ice.
Davis started the festivities with a 20-yard sprint to the 36, followed by a pass completion to Aiden Kennon reaching the Russellville 47. Arrington caught a short toss to the 40 then Davis got five more yards to the 35 then four more to the 31. But the junior tailback made it a night to remember on his next carry, a 31-yard burst through the Cyclones’ defense, almost untouched for the score, making a nice cut to reach the end zone.
With the mercy rule already in effect, Head Coach Chris Young decided to go for two points, calling a special play for his son, Cooper. The senior offensive lineman lined up as an eligible receiver on the left side. Houston then rolled to his right, drawing the defense in that direction before throwing back to the left to a wide-open Young, who galloped in for the conversion, much to the delight of his teammates. The play made it 42-0 at the 10:01 mark of the third quarter.
Freshman quarterback Kane Archer played the remainder of the contest for Greenwood, but the Bulldogs had little interest in scoring, preferring to let the clock run almost continuously under the mercy rule. Russellville finally managed to score against Greenwood’s second unit defense, driving 62 yards in 13 plays, reaching the end zone on a 17-yard run by Tracy Daniels early in the fourth quarter. The kick made the final score, 42-7.
After the victory, Coach Young seemed pleased with his team’s performance after the two-week layoff. He spoke to members of the media before leaving the field. “You’re always worried when you get a bye week, but we were really banged up against Little Rock Christian, and the bye week was good in that we got some healing. You saw four guys on defense that hadn’t been out there,” referring to defensive back Braden Skaggs, linebackers Evan Williams and Eli Whitaker, and safety Storm Scherrey.
“It was really good to have those guys back on defense,” said Young. “I thought our defense was awesome, and that’s a testament to our staff, to Coach [Jason] Gill and all those guys. They worked their tails off the last two weeks. Those guys prepared our kids, and they came out and played outstanding.
“But the thing I’m proud of the most is we get another week with these seniors. We’ve got a great group of guys in our senior class.” The Bulldogs have an unusually small senior class this season with 13 twelfth-graders listed on their roster, but while the quantity is small the quality is high.
The coach also responded to questions about a couple players who excelled in Friday’s win, the first being backup tailback Brayedan Davis. “I thought he was physical and seeing it well,” said the coach. “He’s been hurt all [season] and he’s gotten healthy for the first time, so you’ll see some more of him.”
The other player asked about was Isaiah Arrington. “Peyton Presson was having an awesome year for us. He’s such a great player, but we lost him [to injury], and Isaiah has a ton of talent. He can run and catch, and he’s great after the catch. We’ve got a lot of guys – I think L.J. Robins had three touchdowns tonight – and I thought Hunter [Houston] played great.
Asked about practicing once again on Thanksgiving Day, Coach Young said, “We thought this might happen, so at 9 a.m. we hope to see all of our fans at practice and we’ll buy you coffee and doughnuts. It’s a tradition in Greenwood that started a long time before I got here, but I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Asked about his son, Cooper, and the two-point conversion, Young said, “I’m so proud of him and the job he’s done in this program, and the young man that he is. To have the opportunity to let him make a play there was pretty cool.” The coach also jokingly added that Cooper got his athletic ability from his mother and not his dad. Kelly Young was a star basketball player for the Lady Bulldogs in the late 1990s and also teaches at Greenwood.
As for next week’s opponents, the Benton Panthers, Coach Young said, “We haven’t watched any [film] on them [yet]. We going to enjoy tonight and get on Benton in the morning. We’re familiar with them and they’ve got a running back that every [college] in the country has offered, and we’ve got to figure out a way to stop that guy. But our defensive [coaches] will get to work and figure it out. We’re playing [at home] and we like that.”