Jr. Bulldogs dominate in home opener

Jr. Bulldogs dominate in home opener

Greenwood 55, Russellville 0

Photos By: Ross Fujibayashi

Taking only seven offensive snaps in the entire first half, the Greenwood Jr. Bulldogs still led 42-0 at the intermission Thursday night on their way to a resounding 55-0 shutout of the Russellville Whirlwinds. The contest was played under the newly installed lights at Smith-Robinson Stadium. The GHS freshmen improved to 2-0 after their season-opening road victory at Shiloh Christian a week earlier, 29-12.

Also of note, Greenwood played the game with a handful of missing players quarantined due to possible Covid-19 exposure, including some starters. But the team’s play and the lopsided score certainly didn’t show any drop-off in performance. A wealth of Russellville turnovers also helped as the home team recovered two fumbles and had three interceptions. Three of those turnovers resulted in touchdowns by the defense.

The Jr. ‘Dogs were efficient on both sides of the football. The offense scored on almost every possession while the defense held the Whirlwinds to only a handful of first downs. But there were areas of concern according to Head Coach Shannon Rhea, who was not pleased with the kicking game, nor several 15-yard penalties called on his team.

“There are a lot of things we’ve got to get better at,” said Rhea after the game. “We’ve got to get better at our kicking game, though I thought our coverage was pretty good. But we’ve got to get the extra point situation fixed. It’s either the snap, the hold, or the kick. There are a lot of moving parts. We’ve got to do better blocking too.

“We’ve also got to cut the penalties out,” he added. “We got warned by the officials that both sides were kind of mouthing, and we’ve got to know better. But I like their aggressiveness. I don’t want to take that away from them, but we need to learn to keep our mouths shut and just play ball.”

The visitors received the opening kick, and their first play was indicative of how their night would unfold, a bad snap that resulted in a five-yard loss. It didn’t get much better after that, and Russellville quickly punted the ball away. A 15-yard return by Greenwood’s Daniel Burton put the pigskin at the Whirlwinds’ 49-yard-line.

Eighth-grade quarterback Kane Archer then led his teammates onto the field for a lightning-fast scoring drive of two plays. The first was a short pitch-pass to Kaylor Jasna for five yards to the 44. On the second snap, Archer dropped back into the pocket with good protection and lofted a perfect pass down the Greenwood sideline and into the hands of a wide-open Daniel Burton, who caught the ball near the 15 before continuing unmolested into the end zone. The extra point kick by Zachery Edwards was good for a 7-0 Greenwood lead (5:19).

After another four-and-out by the Whirlwinds, Greenwood took possession of the football at the Russellville 45 after another nice punt return of 25 yards by Daniel Burton. On the play, a member of the five-man officiating crew injured a leg and had to retire from the game, leaving just four officials on the field. But it hardly mattered to the Bulldogs, who were unstoppable offensively.

When play resumed, running back Jeremy Lawyer carried to the 34-yard-line, setting up another quick strike scoring pass from Archer to Burton in similar fashion to their earlier effort. But the PAT failed due to a bad exchange and Greenwood’s lead stood at 13-0 with 2:22 remaining in the opening period.

The visitors took advantage of good field position after the kickoff and picked up a first down, later moving into Greenwood territory at the 28. But defensive end Cash Archer, older brother of Kane, stepped in front of an intended sideline pass near the 30 and returned it 70 yards for a defensive touchdown. Kane Archer then rolled right and hit Kaylor Jasna in the end zone for the two-point conversion, making the score 21-0 early in the second quarter.

A botched kick return left the Whirlwinds in poor field position at their own 15, and three plays later a tipped pass was picked off by Greenwood cornerback Scott Holland and returned for another defensive touchdown. This time the PAT was blocked by Russellville, keeping the score at 27-0, at least temporarily.

With nearly six minutes remaining in the first half, the Bulldogs had time to score twice more. Their next score was set up by yet another pass interception, this one by linebacker Zachery Zitsman with a short return to the Russellville 46.

Back on offense, the Jr. ‘Dogs needed just two plays to score. On second down from the Whirlwind 48, Archer tossed a swing pass to the left side of the field to receiver Isiah Arrington, who found a gap in the defense and outran the pursuit for a touchdown. Archer then rolled out to his left, buying time, before hitting Arrington again for the two-point conversion.

Next, the Whirlwinds put together their best offensive series of the game, taking over four minutes off the clock. With the aid of two 15-yard penalties on Greenwood, Russellville marched 63 yards to the Greenwood 1-yard-line before drawing a flag for an illegal substitution that pushed the ball back 15 yards. Two pass attempts followed, the first complete for six yards and the second incomplete on fourth down, ending the scoring threat.

With only nine seconds left before the break, the Bulldogs called a short pass play to the left side to receiver Grant Karnes, trying to get out of the shadow of their own goal post. But Karnes not only caught the pass, he slipped a would-be tackler and raced down the sideline 81 yards for the score. The extra point failed again, but Greenwood led 42-0 at the half.

With the big lead and the mercy rule in force, the Jr. Bulldogs substituted freely in the second half, resting many of their starters as the clock ran almost continuously. Greenwood received the opening kick of the third quarter, but a couple of penalties derailed the possession and they punted for the first and only time in the game.

Yet it didn’t take long before the home team was celebrating another score, the third of the night by the defense when Greenwood’s Mark Garretson scooped up a loose ball after a fumble and returned it about 25 yards for a touchdown. The extra point was no good, but the GHS freshmen led 48-0 with 2:25 left in the third period.

As the game moved into the fourth quarter, Russellville punted once again with the ball rolling dead at the Greenwood 33. Running back Samuel Burton then took the handoff on first down and found running room around the end and down the GHS sideline all the way for the score. This time the extra point kick was good, making the score 55-0.

There would be no more points scored in the contest, but there was more action, including another fumble recovery by Mark Garretson at the Russellville 27, setting up Greenwood’s final possession. Running back Paul Brixey had a pair of nice runs covering 19 yards before the home team took a knee to run out the final seconds of play.

“It’s always nice to score on defense,” said Rhea when asked about the amazing scoring output in the first half on so few plays. “We were getting turnovers and scoring on defense, then we’d get the ball and make plays on offense, and it made it pretty easy.”

As for quarterback Kane Archer, who barely threw enough passes to keep his arm warm, Coach Rhea was very complimentary. “He put them right on the money – two nice long balls and [the receivers] were wide open. I thought we did well [offensively] and were physical. We mixed it up and I was proud of them. We ran the ball and threw the ball and did a good job in our screen game throwing it out wide. I was pleased with the effort.

“Our defense did a great job [too],” he continued. “We had some guys out because of Covid and quarantine. We lost about four starters, but we had some guys step up. Nick Bass did a good job on defensive line. I heard Coach Sims call his name out, and we’ve got to have that. We’ve got to find some depth.”

Rhea then talked about his team’s next game at Booneville, a new opponent added to this year’s schedule. But two days later the GHS athletic department was notified that due to Covid-19, the Junior Bearcats would be unable to play this coming week. An effort is being made to find another opponent for Greenwood, but with the extended Labor Day weekend and a shortened school week, doing so will be difficult. Greenwood already has an open week scheduled for October.

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