No game is completely meaningless, but the Greenwood Bulldogs and Little Rock Christian Warriors played a somewhat inconsequential contest last Friday at Warriors Stadium, starting the game in sunshine and finishing in the dark just before a line of severe thunderstorms crossed into Central Arkansas. To get ahead of the weather, kickoff was moved to 4:30 p.m., forcing Greenwood fans to change their travel plans Thursday evening. Still, a nice crowd filled the visitors’ section to watch their beloved Bulldogs close out their regular season, though disappointed with the 49-35 loss.
It wasn’t the way Head Coach Chris Young and his staff and players wanted to end the conference schedule, but the loss had no effect on either team’s standing in the postseason. Greenwood is still the #1 seed from the 6A West with a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. LR Christian remains the #4 seed, even though both schools have identical 8-2 records. But the Bulldogs are 7-1 in league play compared to the Warriors at 6-2.
While Greenwood is one of the favorites to reach the state finals, something the school has done in six of the last seven years, LR Christian is positioned well to be a spoiler in the 6A bracket. The Warriors open at home against the defending state champion El Dorado Wildcats, the #5 seed from the east. LR Christian could easily win that game to earn a chance to upset Little Rock Catholic, the only unbeaten team remaining in Class 6A. That would put the Warriors on a trajectory to meet rival Pulaski Academy in the semi-finals on Thanksgiving weekend, both members of the 6A West.
The Bulldogs found out just how dangerous the Warriors can be with junior quarterback Walker White at the controls. The University of Alabama recruit (6’3”-210) ran wild against Greenwood last Friday night, completing a few passes along the way as well. White ran for two scores and threw for two more in the first half alone, building a 34-14 Warriors’ lead at the break.
Behind freshman quarterback Kane Archer, the Bulldogs mounted a modest rally in the second half, cutting the lead to 43-35 with just under four minutes remaining, but that’s as close as they got. Starting QB Hunter Houston played in the first half and the first series of the second half, but was shaken up more than once. No doubt wanting to preserve his senior QB for the playoffs, Coach Young pulled Houston in favor of Archer, who has filled in admirably this season when needed.
The Bulldogs also suffered a costly injury when junior receiver Peyton Presson left the game in the first half. Presson was having an excellent second half of the season, but will now miss the playoffs after having surgery last Saturday. Fortunately, Greenwood has a wealth of talent at receiver to take up the slack, though Presson was the Bulldogs’ tallest pass catcher at just over six feet.
It’s impossible to gauge how much the time change may have affected the Bulldogs. Athletes are creatures of habit, and a 4:30 p.m. start on the road could have been an issue for some players. It might have impacted the Warriors as well, but they were playing at home. Ironically, the only other time the Bulldogs have played at LR Christian was in 2007 when they suffered their worst loss under then head coach Rick Jones. With former GHS quarterback and Razorback great Tyler Wilson at the controls, the ‘Dogs lost that game, 44-7. But a few weeks later Greenwood beat the Warriors, 27-6, for the 5A state championship. A rematch is certainly possible this December, but both teams have a lot of work to do before then.
Last Friday’s contest began with the Warriors receiving the opening kick and driving 79 yards in six plays for the game’s first score, a touchdown pass from White to receiver Connor Smith. The extra point was good for a 7-0 Warriors’ lead. Little Rock Christian never trailed in the game.
The ‘Dogs punted on their first possession but tied the game on their second offensive series. In-between, GHS junior defensive back Josh Allen first tipped then intercepted a Warriors’ pass to end Little Rock Christian’s second possession.
Allen returned the pick about 10 yards to the home 49-yard-line, from where the visitors began their first scoring drive of 11 plays. There were also three penalties on the possession, two on the Warriors and one on the Bulldogs in what turned out to be a penalty-plagued contest. The key stretch in the drive were three consecutive passes from quarterback Hunter Houston to receiver Noah Chaser, good for 26 yards to the 5-yard-line. Four snaps later, on fourth down, Houston scored from one yard out. Kicker Bodey Steinfeldt added the extra point to knot the score at 7-all with 5:44 left in the first period.
The Warriors threatened to score again on their next possession, driving deep into Greenwood territory, but two of many holding calls on LR Christian stalled the effort and the Bulldogs finally took over on downs at their own 37. Moments later a Warriors’ blitz forced Hunter Houston to hurry a throw that was picked off by defender Preston Davis and returned 45 yards for a touchdown, pushing the score to 13-7 after a failed PAT (:31).
Following a Greenwood punt, the home team scored again on a short run by Walker White at the end of a 10-play drive that also featured three penalties. With 9:49 showing on the scoreboard clock, the Warriors were on their way to building a big halftime lead, up 20-7 after the extra point kick.
But in just over two minutes the Bulldogs responded with their second score, keeping themselves in the game, at least temporarily. Starting from their own 20, the visitors marched 80 yards in 11 plays, the last snaps called by freshman quarterback Kane Archer, subbing in for Houston after the Warriors were flagged for roughing the quarterback.
Along the way Peyton Presson had two catches, his last receptions of the game, and senior running back Jake Glover broke off a nice 29-yard sprint to the 3-yard-line. Archer scored the touchdown three plays later. Steinfeldt added the extra point to make the score, 20-14, with 7:26 left in the half.
But two more scores before the break doomed the ‘Dogs as LR Christian surged to a 34-14 advantage at the intermission. Both scores happened in quick succession in the last three minutes of the second quarter. Starting from their own 45 after a GHS punt, the Warriors drove 55 yards in just six plays, the last of which was a 27-yard carry by White straight through the heart of the visiting defense, virtually untouched for the score. The extra point followed with 2:33 showing on the clock.
Then just over a minute later, after a quick three-and-out and punt by Greenwood, LR Christian took advantage of a pass interference penalty on the ‘Dogs, moving the ball to the home 44-yard-line. Three snaps later White threw deep to receiver Jake Field for a 56-yard TD strike. The PAT was good.
Trailing by 20 points, 34-14, the Bulldogs mounted a late charge, reaching the home 32-yard-line, but with only seconds left, two pass attempts fell incomplete, the last one in the end zone, ending the half. The teams then headed to their locker rooms, the Bulldogs knowing they had an uphill battle ahead of them in the second half, but a battle they had fought and won before, so hope remained.
But things got worse early in the third quarter before they got better. The Bulldogs received the opening kick of the second half but were unable to take advantage of it. An intentional grounding penalty on Greenwood ended the possession and forced yet another punt to the Warriors’ 26-yard-line. They would score seven plays later. A 47-yard run set up the 1-yard touchdown run. A two-point conversion try failed, and the Warriors’ led to 40-14 with 7:06 left in the third quarter.
Greenwood then rallied with two consecutive scores, cutting the LR Christian lead to 40-28 late in the period. The first came at the end of a 75-yard drive in seven plays, the last of which was a 40-yard scamper by Kane Archer for the touchdown. Steinfeldt’s extra point kick was good (5:56).
The Bulldogs’ next score came after forcing a Warriors’ punt to the GHS 32 after a 15-yard return by junior L.J. Robins. Glover ran for 16 yards on first down, Brayedan Davis ran for 11 yards, and Robins caught a pass from Archer for 13 yards to the Warriors’ 28-yard-line. Three snaps later, Archer found receiver Grant Karnes near the home 20 for the reception, and the super sophomore did the rest with his legs. The extra point was good, making it 40-28 with 1:03 left in the third stanza.
The home offense got back on track with its next possession, driving 62 yards in 13 plays, overcoming three penalties along the way and a third-and 24 situation. When the possession finally stalled at the GHS 10-yard-line, the Warriors kicked a 27-yard field goal. But more importantly, they chewed up eight minutes of precious time, leaving the Bulldogs with only 5:09 to make their final charge.
Trailing 43-28, Kane Archer and company drove 65 yards in just four plays to stay within striking distance of the Warriors. Facing fourth-and-eight at their own 37, the Bulldogs’ pulled a rabbit out of their hat when Archer threw deep to L.J. Robins near the home 30-yard-line. Robins made the catch then put on the brakes as two defenders flew past him before he made a great run for the end zone. The extra point was good, making the score 43-35 with 3:46 left to play.
But the expected onside kick failed as the Warriors covered the ball at the GHS 45. Two plays later, dynamic running back Ronny Anokye raced 43 yards for the game’s final touchdown, putting a nail in Greenwood’s coffin, though the extra point try failed.
Trailing 49-35, the Bulldogs continued fighting to the very end, driving 50 yards into Warriors’ territory before giving the ball up on downs at the LR Christian 19. The home team then ran out the clock on the 14-point victory.
After the game, Head Coach Chris Young spoke to Greenwood Dog Pound sideline reporter Richie Cagle. “I’m proud that we didn’t give up, because we played a very bad first half,” said Young. “You’ve got to give [LR Christian] credit. They’re a heck of a football team, and I told our guys that all week. We just didn’t play well in the first half, for whatever reason. We didn’t have the energy, and that’s on me.
“But I was proud of them, how they came out in the second half and competed,” he continued. “I thought we had a chance after we got it down to two scores, but [the Warriors] made plays when they had to. You have to tip your hat to them.”
“But here’s the deal,” he added. “We’ve got two weeks to get better as a football team, and get healthy, and if we do what we’re supposed to do we’ll have a chance [in the playoffs].” The Bulldogs will likely get a couple days off before returning to the practice field in preparation for their second-round matchup with the winner of the West Memphis-Russellville game.
The Blue Devils are 6-4 and the #4 seed from the east while the Cyclones are 4-5 overall and the #5 seed from the west. Greenwood earlier defeated Russellville in conference play, 42-21, but the Cyclones made it a close game until late. They could easily pull off the upset at West Memphis. Russellville had a game cancelled early in September and played only nine regular season games.