The Greenwood Bulldogs are at the top of the state’s Class 6A rankings after a pair of convincing wins over 7A schools to open the 2020 season. The ‘Dogs rolled over Fort Smith Southside in week one, winning 42-3, then shutout Springdale Har-Ber this past Friday, 33-0. The game against the Wildcats was the first of three consecutive home contests for the Bulldogs.
Originally slated to host Fort Smith Northside, the Bulldogs instead welcomed Har-Ber to Smith-Robinson Stadium after the Grizzlies experienced health concerns related to Covid-19. As a result, Northside cancelled its football practices for the week and called off the game with Greenwood. Fortunately, Har-Ber had an open date and was willing to travel to Greenwood, having never lost to the Bulldogs during the brief history shared by the two schools.
The change occurred last Sunday night, forcing the GHS coaching staff, especially defensive coordinator Jason Gill, to quickly shift gears to prepare for a different opponent. And what a job Gill and his staff did getting ready for the Wildcats. The players then executed their game plan almost to perfection.
In his post-game comments to the media, Head Coach Chris Young gave credit to Coach Gill and his staff for their quick response to the sudden change in opponents. “I called him Sunday night at 9 o’clock to tell him we were playing Har-Ber, and he stayed up until four in the morning working on his game plan, then showed up at seven in the morning for our staff meeting.
“It was an unbelievable job by [Coach Gill] and his staff,” added Young. “I’ve coached for 21 years and that’s as good a defensive performance as I’ve ever seen, and all the credit goes to our defensive coaches and [players]. I’m so proud of them.” The GHS defense has allowed no touchdowns and just three points so far this season against two Class 7A teams.
Springdale Har-Ber was picked second in the 7A West conference by Hooten’s Arkansas Football magazine, but has started the season 0-3 after losses to McKinney (TX), North Little Rock, and Greenwood, not exactly a cupcake schedule. Har-Ber head coach Chris Woods, who suffered his first loss to the Bulldogs, needs to turn things around as the Wildcats take on Fort Smith Northside next week, assuming the Grizzlies are allowed to play.
At Greenwood, the Wildcats received the opening kick and drove from their own 19 to the GHS 21, where they faced a fourth-and-one situation. But a short pass was sniffed out by Bulldogs’ defensive back Colin Daggett, and the junior laid a big hit on the receiver for a one-yard loss, giving the ball to the GHS offense on the change of possession.
But the ‘Dogs offense sputtered out of the gate, failing to pick up a first down after committing a procedure penalty and costing themselves five yards. Quarterback L.D. Richmond lined up behind center and tried to draw the defense offsides on fourth-and-short, but when that didn’t happen he executed a beautiful quick kick that rolled inside the Springdale 5-yard-line before being returned to the 15.
A quarterback sack on second down by junior defensive lineman Tyler Crossno sabotaged the Wildcats’ hopes of moving the ball on offense, forcing a quick three-and-out followed by a punt to return specialist Jayden Jasna, who ran the kick back 15 yards to the Har-Ber 40-yard-line. From there the Bulldogs needed just five plays to score their first touchdown.
On first down, Richmond threw to senior receiver Jase Strozier for a nice gain to the 25. Richmond then pitched the ball forward to fellow senior Caden Brown for more than a dozen yards to the 12 and another first down. A short toss to junior Luke Brewer reached the five before senior running back Hunter Wilkinson ran to the 3-yard-line. Richmond then executed a nice fake and kept the ball, spinning away from contact to reach the end zone for the score. Senior kicker Luis Morales added the extra point for a 7-0 GHS lead.
A good return and a penalty against Greenwood on the kickoff allowed the Wildcats to start their next possession at the GHS 46-yard-line. On third down, Springdale’s quarterback scrambled for a long touchdown run, but the play was nullified by a penalty, moving the ball back to the GHS 40. Five plays later he was intercepted in the end zone by Greenwood’s Tatum Sadler. The senior returned the ball down the home sideline for over 50 yards, but a penalty moved the spot back to the Bulldogs’ 30.
The possession didn’t result in any GHS points as the game slipped into the second quarter, but the Bulldogs moved the ball into Wildcats’ territory, reaching the 32-yard-line before failing on a fourth down pass attempt. Likewise, Springdale also turned the ball over on downs at the Greenwood 40 on a somewhat questionable spot by the officials.
After that, the Bulldogs needed just two plays to score their second touchdown. A short gain by Wilkinson to the 40 was followed by Richmond’s rollout to the right side and off-balance pass to Luke Brewer near the Har-Ber 40. The junior receiver hauled in the catch, then slipped a would-be tackler before sprinting to the end zone. Morales added the PAT (6:01).
Leading 14-0, the Greenwood defense didn’t let up, especially when a holding penalty pushed the Wildcats back to their own 8-yard-line on first down. Two snaps later, Greenwood senior Hayden Wells picked off another enemy pass, returning it from Springdale 40 to the 16-yard-line, setting up the Bulldogs’ next score moments later.
Overcoming a procedure penalty to the 21, Richmond kept the ball on the ground, reaching the Har-Ber 15, but a penalty on the Wildcats moved the ball to the five when Richmond’s helmet was illegally knocked off his head. The senior was temporarily replaced by sophomore Hunter Houston, who ran one play, a four-yard gain by running back Hunter Wilkinson, who carried in for the touchdown on the next snap. The extra point followed, making the score 21-0 (4:10).
Greenwood’s final score of the first half followed yet another Springdale turnover, this one a fumble on the kickoff recovered by Jayden Jasna at the GHS 33. On second down, Richmond passed to senior Peyton Carter at the 19, moving the sticks for a first down. But two plays later an errant shotgun snap resulted in a big loss back to the 34.
But Richmond quickly compensated by finding a wide-open Hunter Wilkinson over the middle for an easy toss and catch that reached the 2-yard-line. Wilkinson then stutter-stepped his way into the end zone on the next play, but the kick by Morales was blocked by the Wildcats, keeping the halftime score at 27-0.
The only score of the second half came late in the third quarter after another pick by the GHS defense. Junior linebacker Parker Gill, son of Coach Gill, snagged an interception and returned it 21 yards to the Wildcats’ 4-yard-line. After Wilkinson tried twice to score, Richmond passed to Brewer in the right side of the end zone for the touchdown. With 3:39 remaining in the quarter, the Bulldogs tried for a two-point conversion to invoke the mercy rule, but the pass fell incomplete, leaving the score, 33-0.
The teams swapped possession of the football several times over the next 15 minutes, but the only play of significance was an interception by Har-Ber, though the ‘Cats were not able to turn their good fortune into points as the GHS defense remained stalwart throughout the game.
With just over two minutes remaining, the Bulldogs took possession of the ball at their own 8-yard-line after foiling a fourth down pass attempt by Har-Ber. With his back to the end zone, Richmond then took a knee on three successive snaps to run out the remaining time in the 33-0 non-conference victory for Greenwood.
Next week the Bulldogs host Choctaw, Oklahoma (1-1) in Greenwood’s final game before opening league play the following week at home against Little Rock Parkview (2-0). Coach Young has likened the Choctaw Yellowjackets to Pulaski Academy in the unorthodox way they approach the game of football.
In fact, Choctaw’s entire non-conference schedule includes three teams from Arkansas. Besides Greenwood, the ‘Jackets lost to Springdale (46-18) and defeated Van Buren (28-10) this past Friday. It should be an interesting matchup with the Bulldogs. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and the game will also serve as the 2020 Homecoming for Greenwood. Festivities will be held on the field prior to the game and will be live streamed on the Greenwood Dog Pound website.