For the sixth consecutive year the Greenwood Bulldogs will be practicing football on Thanksgiving Day after Friday night’s 49-13 home victory over the Mountain Home Bombers. As expected, the top-ranked and unbeaten (12-0) ‘Dogs are one of four remaining teams still playing for the 6A state championship. The others include the Marion Patriots, Lake Hamilton Wolves, and the Sylvan Hills Bears. The Bulldogs and Wolves represent the 6A West, while the Patriots and Bears are from the 6A East. Greenwood will host Marion next Friday at 7 p.m. at Smith-Robinson Stadium.
In other 6A playoff scores from Friday night, Lake Hamilton (10-1) defeated El Dorado (5-5) by a score of 50-14, while Marion (4-7) topped Van Buren in a high-scoring game, 55-34, and Sylvan Hills (9-3) won over Little Rock Parkview (8-2) in a surprising defensive contest, 7-0. The beneficiary of Benton’s first-round forfeit due to Covid-19, the Marion Patriots, seeded sixth from the east, managed to outscore Van Buren, the #7 seed from the west, to earn the dubious privilege of traveling nearly 300 miles to face the Bulldogs the day after Thanksgiving.
Friday’s contest was the second meeting of the season between Greenwood and Mountain Home, which finished 6-6 under new head coach Steve Ary after going 0-10 each of the past two seasons. The much-improved Bombers also joined the 6A West conference this year and earned the league’s #5 seed in the playoffs, beating Pine Bluff in the first round. Earlier this fall the Bulldogs traveled to Mountain Home and won 40-7.
Before Friday’s contest, GHS Head Coach Chris Young talked about playing Mountain Home for the second time in a two-month span. “The first time we played them I thought that was one of the best games we’ve played all year, especially the first half,” he said. “We played really well. We were efficient [offensively] and our defense was flying around.
“They were missing a couple of guys, but they have improved. So we better get ready, because they’re a good team. They are playing with a ton of confidence right now and they are well coached. We expect them to play us in a different defense and probably try some different things offensively. We expect them to have a different plan for us and we will have to adjust. We know we’ve got a challenge, so I expect our kids to be fired up and play well tonight.”
The GHS mercy rule victory was notable for several reasons. In addition to qualifying for the state semi-finals, the Bulldogs didn’t punt one time, but they did play nearly three-fourths of the game without starting quarterback L.D. Richmond, who was shaken up early in the second quarter and did not return to action. Senior running back Hunter Wilkinson also extended his string of 100-yard-plus games as he moves ever closer to 1,500 yards on the season after a slow start due to some early nagging injuries. Sophomore QB Hunter Houston also played very well, leading Greenwood’s last five touchdown drives.
The weather was a bit warm and muggy for a mid-November evening with game time temperatures in the 60s. As the battle progressed the Bulldogs’ dark grey uniforms became visibly soaked in perspiration. Also, absent from the contest was one of Greenwood’s top receivers, senior Peyton Carter, held out due to a hand injury. But the ‘Dogs hardly missed a beat offensively, scoring 35 first-half points on six possessions. Their first series was plagued by penalties and ended with a failed fourth down play at the Mountain Home 17.
But their second possession hit pay dirt after the GHS defense forced the first of several Mountain Home punts in the game. Greenwood drove 49 yards in just five plays, three of them through the air and two on the ground. Richmond tossed a short pitch pass to Caden Brown on first down, then danced around in the pocket before finding Jase Strozier deep at the 13-yard-line for a 33-yard gain. Two snaps later Richmond found Brown again on a tunnel screen to the five before Hunter Wilkinson bowled his way into the end zone for the score. Kicker Luis Morales added the extra point for a 7-0 GHS lead.
However, the Bombers responded with a 64-yard run by quarterback Bryce McKay for their first score, but missed the extra point after a penalty. With just under five minutes left in the opening period, the Bulldogs led by a narrow margin, 7-6. But Greenwood would score three more times over the next 12 minutes before the visitors could catch their breath. The home team led 35-13 at the intermission before adding a pair of second half scores to invoke the mercy rule.
With a one-point lead, the Bulldogs went back to work on offense and scored in short order, needing mere seconds and just two plays. Even more exciting, Aiden Kennon returned the Bombers’ kick-off 71 yards for an apparent touchdown along the visitors’ sideline, but the play was called back due to a penalty, giving Greenwood the ball at its own 39.
Richmond ran a QB draw to the 47 on first down, then handed the ball to Wilkinson, who found daylight behind the left side of the GHS line, absorbing contact at the line of scrimmage before bursting into the open and sprinting for the 53-yard score. The extra point was good by Morales, expanding the GHS lead to 14-6 (2:39).
After forcing another Mountain Home punt, the Bulldogs continued their offensive momentum despite a 15-yard penalty against them on the kick return. From the Bombers’ 46, Richmond scrambled to the 42, then got five more yards two snaps later, reaching the 35 on the first play of the second period. Wilkinson then carried twice to the 29 and Richmond ran for six more yards to the 23 before being upended and landing awkwardly on his side.
Shaken up on the play, the GHS quarterback was helped off the field by the medical staff. Though he appeared to be talking and smiling, he did not return for the remainder of the game, probably out of a sense of caution for his well-being and his importance to the rest of the season. Replacing him, Hunter Houston completed his first seven passes, including his first one, a 20-yard touch pass to Caden Brown on a fade route in the end zone for a touchdown. The PAT made it 21-6 (9:40).
Just over three minutes later the Bulldogs were back on offense, starting at their own 28 after fair catching a punt. On second down Houston tossed a screen pass to Luke Brewer for nice yardage to the 47. Moments later from the 49 he threw deep to Brown once again, who made the catch at the 17 and continued on to the end zone. The PAT was good (4:57).
Leading 28-6, the GHS defense gave up a long pass-and-run play to the Bombers, setting up their second and last touchdown of the game. McKay ran a QB keeper around right end for the score from 27 yards out. The extra point kick pulled the visitors to within 15 points of the GHS lead at 28-13, but they would get no closer.
With just over 2:30 minutes left in the half, the home offense had plenty of time to score again, and it did, completing a 61-yard drive in eight plays, using all but 38 seconds of the remaining time. Houston completed four passes for short yardage before his first and only incompletion of the game. But he followed up with a screen pass to Wilkinson for a 39-yard TD play. The kick by Morales made the score 35-13 at the half.
Three more GHS scores followed in the second half to put the game away and get the clock moving with the mercy rule. The first score came after linebacker Colt Owenby picked off a Mountain Home pass and returned it 42 yards to midfield, stifling a Bombers’ scoring threat early in the third quarter.
Wilkinson then ran five times to the visitors’ 32 before Houston connected with Caden Brown on a deep pass to the 2-yard-line. And just when the Bombers appeared to be making a goal line stand, Houston rolled to his right on third down and found Luke Brewer in the end zone for a diving catch. The extra point made the score 42-13 (2:30).
The game’s final touchdown came on Greenwood’s first possession of the fourth quarter after Mountain Home failed on a fake punt play at its own 31, almost giftwrapping the mercy rule for the Bulldogs. Hunter Wilkinson carried three times on the drive, the second time for 20 yards to the visitors’ 3-yard-line, before scoring on the next play. The kick made the score 49-13 and invoked the mercy rule for the remaining 10:33 of the game, which passed very quickly.
Unofficially, the Bulldogs accounted for 455 yards of offense, with Hunter Houston completing all but one of his 12 passes for 182 yards and four touchdowns. Hunter Wilkinson ran for 137 yards on 19 carries and scored four times.
In his post-game comments to the media, Coach Young was generous in praising his sophomore quarterback, saying, “He is unbelievable. I cannot be prouder of Hunter Houston tonight. The guy works his tail off every day. He prepares every day for a moment like this. He was outstanding. We’ve been fortunate that we have a lot of guys who can throw the football. The thing with Hunter is that he can throw it and knows where to throw it. He is so smart.”
Young also had kind words for Mountain Home, saying, “Let’s tip our hats to those guys. They’ve improved. They were physical and they had a great plan. Their quarterback is a heck of a player. It was a good football game for us and a good challenge. I’m really proud of how we played. Offensively, I don’t remember if we punted? We also lost our quarterback, but he’s going to be fine,” referring to Richmond, who is expected to return next week against Marion.
The Patriots are certainly the surprise team remaining in the field of four in the state semi-finals, having won just two games in the regular season among their total of four wins, including the Benton forfeit. It’s likely they would not have survived a first-round road trip to Benton had the Panthers not been afflicted by Covid-19 and conceded the game.
But give Marion credit for soundly whipping a good Van Buren team from the 6A West, getting an 80-yard TD run on the first play of the game to stun the visiting Pointers, who never quite recovered. Still, playing at home, the Bulldogs will be an overwhelming favorite to beat the Patriots and advance to the championship game on December 5th at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium against the winner of the Sylvan Hills – Lake Hamilton contest.