There’s nothing like a loss to help refocus a team. At least that seems to be what happened to the Greenwood Bulldogs, 45-38 losers to the Benton Panthers on October 25th. The two-time defending 6A state champs responded with a resounding 42-0 win over Sheridan last Friday night at Smith-Robinson Stadium.
With the regular season finale coming up at Lake Hamilton (8-1, 5-1) this week, the Bulldogs (8-1, 5-1) can still position themselves for another strong run to a third consecutive state title with a win over the Wolves.
The winner earns a second-place finish in the 6A West and a first-round bye in the playoffs. The loser gets third place and must play the extra game. Benton will be a big favorite to beat Sheridan and win the conference crown outright.
The GHS offense was on fire against the Yellowjackets, scoring on five of its six possessions in the first half to invoke the state’s sportsmanship rule, otherwise known as the mercy rule, triggered by a 35-point differential.
Leading by that exact margin at the break, the Bulldogs added another touchdown in the third quarter before rotating their starters out of the game and subbing in their reserves, including every senior on the squad. Friday’s game was preceded by the honoring of all seniors, including the band and spirit groups, and their parents.
The Yellowjackets (5-4, 3-3) received the opening kick, but were quickly forced to punt the ball away. Greenwood took over at its own 38-yard-line, scoring almost immediately after just three plays, all passes.
Senior quarterback Jace Presley, plagued the previous three weeks by interceptions, returned to his earlier brilliance and efficiency, connecting with receivers Peyton Carter and Lozaro Angel for 15 and 10 yards, respectively, to open the possession. He then launched a deep pass down the middle to a wide-open Caden Brown for the 37-yard score.
Senior kicker Jackson Stewart added the extra point and the Bulldogs were off and running. Leading 7-0, the GHS defense returned to its early-season dominance, hardly giving Sheridan’s offense room to breathe.
The ‘Dogs sputtered on their second offensive series after crossing the mid-field stripe, but it was just a pause before an avalanche of touchdown passes and a long scoring run by Hunter Wilkinson. It was 14-0 after 12 minutes and 35-0 with 25 seconds left in the first half.
Greenwood’s third offensive series began at the home 36-yard-line and lasted 11 plays, overcoming a pair of procedure penalties along the way. Wilkinson took a pitch and rambled 13 yards on first down. Fellow running back Aaron Ligon then ran twice for short yardage to the visitors’ 48.
On the next snap, Presley found Angel for 16 yards to the 32. An offsides penalty then pushed the ‘Dogs back five yards, but Presley passed to Wilkinson for a dozen yards to the 25.
Wilkinson and Ligon then ran twice each to the 3-yard-line. After the second penalty, Brown caught a short pass to the five before Presley connected with Treyton Dawson for a touchdown in the front left corner of the end zone. Stewart’s kick was good.
As the game entered the second period, Sheridan finally had some success moving the ball, albeit with the help of a 15-yard penalty on Greenwood. The visitors reached as far as the GHS 26-yard-line, but the defense came up big when junior Jayden Jasna picked off a Yellowjackets’ pass at the 8-yard-line.
Back on offense, the Bulldogs quickly traversed the 92 yards in just three plays. From the 13 on third down, Presley gave the ball to Wilkinson, hoping for a first down. But the junior running back got that and much more, finding a hole in the middle of the defense before veering toward the sideline all the way to the end zone. The extra point made it 21-0.
With 2:11 remaining in the opening half, Greenwood struck again after a 10-play drive that took just over two minutes. From their own 42, the Bulldogs used a series of short passes and runs to reach the Sheridan 17. Two snaps later Presley found Lazaro Angel for the touchdown. Stewart’s kick was true for a 28-0 GHS lead.
Needing another score to invoke the mercy rule, the ‘Dogs got their chance moments later when defensive back Jayden Jasna picked off his second pass of the half. A penalty on the return cost Greenwood 45 yards, but it really didn’t matter.
With 1:16 left in the quarter, the Bulldogs needed just six plays and 51 seconds to reach the end zone. Starting from his own 15, Presley gave the ball twice to Wilkinson for seven yards, then completed all four of his pass attempts to Treyton Dawson for symmetrical gains of 14, 25, 14, and 25 yards, the last one a “special” play for the touchdown.
Stewart’s extra point try was good and both teams left the playing field at halftime knowing that the final two quarters would go by in a blur with the mercy rule in effect.
Both teams punted on their opening possession of the second half. With an almost continuously running clock, the Bulldogs got the ball back again with just 3:40 left in the third period.
Seven rushing plays and three shorts passes later the ‘Dogs scored their final touchdown. Sheridan helped a bit as well with a 15-yard personal foul penalty. The score came on a six-yard dash by Aaron Ligon. The kick made it 42-0, and the remaining 10:33 played out rather quickly with both teams using their reserves extensively.
After the game, GHS Head Coach Rick Jones eagerly expressed his pleasure with how his team performed, especially quarterback Jace Presley, who connected on 22 of 29 of his passes for 270 yards and 4 touchdowns.
"He came out and played really well," said Jones. "We knew because of the way [Sheridan] plays we'd have time to throw. They [usually] rush three or four. Our passing game is often quick plays, but we wanted to give our guys some time to work open."
Greenwood’s top receiver was Treyton Dawson with eight catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Caden Brown added five receptions for 65 yards and a score. Lazaro Angel caught three passes for 42 yards with a touchdown, while Hunter Wilkinson ran 10 times for 132 yards and a touchdown.
"I was really proud of how the kids came out and responded to last week's disappointment," Jones added. "You never know how things will go. They played hard and fast."
Sheridan came into last Friday's contest averaging 31 points a game in league play, but the ‘Jackets were held to 167 total yards and were intercepted twice by the stingy Bulldogs’ defense.
"That’s a hard offense to go against," Jones said. "Everybody we've watched play them weren't able to do what we did tonight. Our guys went out and played really well. I'm proud of them and the coaching staff, getting them ready. It was frustrating last week. We made some mental errors. But we came back and played well [tonight]."
Unofficially, Greenwood rolled up 464 total yards on offense, earning 23 first downs to only 11 for the Yellowjackets. Sheridan had 101 yards passing and had only 66 yards on the ground.
The regular season ends this coming Friday on the road at Lake Hamilton. The upstart Wolves lost their only game of the season last Friday to Benton (6-3, 6-0). It was the Panthers’ sixth consecutive victory, all in conference play.
Greenwood and Lake Hamilton are currently tied for second in the league standings and the outcome of Friday’s game is critical. The loser will finish third and must play an extra post-season game, while the second-place winner will earn an opening round bye. Greenwood should be a slight favorite in the game despite being the visiting team.