The Greenwood Bulldogs closed out their regular season last Friday night with a resounding 40-0 shutout win over the visiting Lake Hamilton Wolves. But the final score does not adequately convey the character of a contest plagued by more than 20 penalties, at least of dozen of which were for personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct.
Those penalties were about evenly split between the two teams as passions flared among players for both squads. Greenwood finally invoked the mercy rule in the second half, but the numerous flags slowed the pace of play markedly, especially in the second quarter.
The win completed a perfect conference record for the Bulldogs (9-1, 7-0), who finished the regular season with a nine-game winning streak after losing their season opener at Fort Smith Northside. Greenwood will be off next week for the first round of the playoffs and will host a second-round game on November 16th.
The Bulldogs scored on their first offensive series of the night after the defense forced a quick punt by Lake Hamilton. Greenwood’s Max Vickery, who along with all his senior teammates were honored before the game, returned the punt 16 yards to the visitors’ 41-yard-line.
After a procedure penalty moved the ball back to the 46, receiver Luke Leonard caught a shovel pass from quarterback Peyton Holt for a short gain to the 44. Running back Hunter Wilkinson rumbled down to the 35, then Holt kept the ball to the 27, followed by a 5-yard facemask penalty on the Wolves to the 22.
A pass to Treyton Dawson reached the 18 before Holt scrambled to the 12 for a first down. Two snaps later Holt tossed a swing pass to Leonard to the 6-yard-line, setting up the score on the next play, a throwback pass from Holt to Isaiah Belue around left end for the touchdown. The kick by Grant Ennis was good.
Leading 7-0 (6:44) in the first quarter, the GHS defense continued its dominance of the Wolves’ offense, forcing another punt to midfield. Five plays and 59 seconds later the ‘Dogs scored again.
On second down from the 50, Holt connected with receiver Peyton Carter to the Lake Hamilton 44. After a penalty erased most of that play, moving the ball back to the 49, Holt passed to Lazaro Angel at the 40 for a first down. The junior receiver then caught another pass at the 17.
The touchdown came on a rollout and scramble by Holt, who started left then reversed direction and made it to the pylon on the front right side of the end zone. The extra point was good by Ennis (1:49).
Trailing 14-0, the Wolves finally had some offensive success as the game moved into the second quarter, aided by a trio of 15-yard penalties on the Bulldogs, two for personal fouls and one for a facemask violation.
But the Wolves were also hit with a personal foul penalty, and after reaching the 9-yard-line, they suffered a pair of QB sacks by the Greenwood defense. Ultimately the Bulldogs took over on downs at their own 27, ending the Lake Hamilton threat.
After the rash of penalties, the two squads traded punts until about five minutes remained in the half. Taking over at their own 45 after a Wolves’ punt, the Bulldogs drove for their third touchdown in six plays with the help of another penalty, this one on the visitors.
The big play of the series was a 28-yard toss from Holt to Dawson at the 18-yard-line. But the junior receiver didn’t get up immediately and had to be helped off the field with a bum ankle. He did not return.
Holt then suffered a sack at the 28 and his next pass fell incomplete. But the play was salvaged by a flag on the Wolves for defensive holding, putting the ball down at the 18. On the next snap, Holt connected with Angel for the touchdown in the right side of the end zone. The extra point was foiled by a poor exchange, leaving the score 20-0, where it remained until halftime.
The ‘Dogs received the opening kick of the second half but had to punt it away to the Wolves at midfield. Lake Hamilton then quickly coughed up the football with GHS senior Austin Archer making the recovery at the home 49-yard-line. Greenwood scored three plays later.
On third down from the Lake Hamilton 46, Holt threw a swing pass to Wilkinson coming out of the backfield, catching the Wolves’ defense napping, because the sophomore had a clear lane all the way to the end zone. The kick was good by Ennis, making it 27-0 at the 10:13 mark of the third quarter.
Perhaps feeling some frustration, the Wolves imploded on their next offensive series, incurring two flags for holding and another personal foul, followed by a botched punt, giving Greenwood the ball at the Lake Hamilton 29. Five plays later the ‘Dogs scored again.
Wilkinson got nine yards on second down, reaching the 20, before picking up a first down at the 17. Holt then passed to Angel at the five, setting up senior Marc Jones for the scoring plunge up the middle, a play that drew anther flag on the Wolves and took the officials some time to unravel before signaling a touchdown.
Needing two points to reach 35 and invoke the mercy rule, the Bulldogs lined up for a two-point conversion. But Holt’s pass was batted away from the receiver at the last second by Lake Hamilton’s Tre Darrough, whose momentum carried him forward and into the official stationed in the end zone, knocking him to the turf. But while he was down, another Wolves' player, Ray Hamp, tossed the football and hit the official laying prone on the ground, drawing a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct.
It took the injured official a couple of minutes to collect himself and regain his feet before the umpire announced the personal foul on the Wolves and Hamp's ejection from the game. Two penalties were then applied to the kickoff with Greenwood lining up at the visitors’ 30-yard-line.
An onside kick failed, but with the Bulldogs leading 33-0 the Wolves took a chance on fourth down and came up short at their own 38. Greenwood took over and scored seven plays and two penalties later, finally putting the sportsmanship or mercy rule in play.
Holt passed twice to Lazaro Angel, reaching the 25, then threw to Leonard, first at the 18 and again to the eight. A third pass to Leonard reached the two-yard-line, but a pair of penalties, one on each team, moved the ball to the five. Holt then ran off left tackle for the score. Ennis made it 40-0 (3:08).
With the clock moving almost continuously, both teams relented and replaced their starters with reserves off the bench. The final 15 minutes went by quickly and without incident. The only real excitement was an apparent touchdown run of 52 yards by Greenwood’s Aydin Chatfield, but the play was called back due to a penalty. The ‘Dogs then took a knee to run out the remaining time.
After the game Head Coach Rick Jones addressed his team on the field, awarding them with two days off after the win and before their bye week. He also talked with the media about the victory.
“It was rough,” he said of the penalty-plagued contest. “We’ve got to make sure we don’t respond. I don’t really know what the deal was, but we have to take care of ourselves. It doesn’t matter what anyone else does. We don’t control other teams, the officials, the weather, the wind – we’re only going to concern ourselves with things we can control, and that’s our effort and our attitude. Doing the right thing on the field and playing the game the way it was meant to be played.”
As for the nine-game winning streak and repeating as unbeaten conference champions for the fourth straight year, Jones said, “We would have taken that, wouldn’t we, on that long night in September?’ referring to the season-opening loss to Northside.
“I’m proud of our kids. We’re making progress, but we have a long way to go. When you watch film, you see how much better we could be if we just do the little things right.”
Asked about the shutout, Jones said, “The defense played awesome tonight, that was obvious. They have what I call a ‘defensive mentality’. They fly to the ball. They may get there on time or they may not get there on time, but they are headed in that direction as fast as they can go. They do that every day in practice.”
As for the bye week, the coach said, “We don’t have an off week. That’s a misnomer. We have a week of practice in which we have an opportunity to get a lot better. We’ll take a couple of days off, which will be great, then we’ll come back Monday and have a full week of practice.
Concerning injuries in the game, Jones said, “Treyton [Dawson] got dinged up on his ankle and [linebacker Sam] Sandifer we think broke a bone in his thumb, which is not good.”
Greenwood recognized 25 seniors before the game, along with their parents, and Coach Jones talked about his senior class, their leadership, and the exceptional work ethic of his team throughout the season.
“They’re a fun group to coach. We never have a dull moment. But I just appreciate the way they come out and practice. There’s a lot of work still left to do,” he said. “[But] they’ve done a good job of trying to get better every day. That’s one of our mantras. They practice really hard. I’ve been really proud of them. They play with a little bit of a chip on their shoulders, and that’s a good thing.”
Greenwood entered Friday’s regular season finale ranked #4 overall in the state’s media poll behind three 7A-Central teams, North Little Rock, Conway, and Bryant. The Bulldogs are still ranked #1 in Class 6A, getting all but two first-place votes, which went to unbeaten West Memphis (10-0), the top seed from the 6A-East. The ‘Dogs and Blue Devils could be on a collision course in the state finals set for December 1st.
As for his team’s prospects in the upcoming playoffs, Jones admitted, “The thing is that we just don’t know. We may be the fifth best team over on the other side (6A East). We don’t do a lot of crossover games, so it’s hard to tell. All we can do is be the best we can be, and if that’s good enough, so be it. If it’s not, we want to give it our best.”