Jr. Bulldogs remain unbeaten, improve to 5-0

Jr. Bulldogs remain unbeaten, improve to 5-0

Photos By: Ross Fujibayashi

Entering week seven of the 2021 season the Greenwood Junior High Bulldogs had faced only four opponents. They stood at 4-0 after four dominating performances against Shiloh Christian, Russellville, and Fort Smith Northside and Southside. But a pair of cancellations have taken a bite out of the first half of their season. Booneville cancelled due to a Covid outbreak and last week Greenwood’s conference game at Northside was nixed by lightning. It remains to be seen if that game can be made up, but in the meantime the GHS freshmen took care of business at Pea Ridge last Thursday, winning 40-0.

The Greenwood defense was absolutely stellar against the Jr. Blackhawks, hardly giving an inch to the opposition offense. Except for a couple individual plays for big yardage, the home team couldn’t sustain a meaningful drive and managed to make only a handful of first downs. The visiting defense dominated the line of scrimmage and spent as much time in the Pea Ridge backfield as did the Blackhawks’ quarterback. Greenwood scored all its points in the first half, invoking the mercy rule and leaving it to the defensive reserves to maintain the shutout in the second half for the conference victory.

While the defense was doing its thing against Pea Ridge, the Greenwood offense scored every time it had the football in the first half, reaching the end zone six times, with only a trio of missed extra point kicks to mar their performance. Eighth grade quarterback Kane Archer continues to play well despite being a year younger than most of his teammates. His cool leadership and accurate passing behind a capable offensive line, coupled with a talented group of running backs and receivers, makes for a powerful combination that has so far proved unstoppable.

The freshmen ‘Dogs received the opening kick, which appeared to be an onside attempt that went out-of-bounds at the 50, giving the visitors excellent field position to start the game. And it didn’t take long to put points on the scoreboard. Archer took the game’s first snap and handed off to running back Jeremy Lawyer, who found a gap in the defense around right end and down the visitors’ sideline for the touchdown, but the point after failed.

Leading 6-0 only seconds into the game, the Bulldogs were off and running. But after stopping the Blackhawks on their first two snaps from the 30 for little or no gain, the home team got its biggest play of the game on a short pass and long run down to the Greenwood 32-yard-line. Defensive back Talen Denham saved a touchdown by pushing the runner out-of-bounds. But three runs for no gain led to a fourth-and-ten situation before a pass attempt fell incomplete.

Back on offense, the Jr. Bulldogs needed just five plays to score again, overcoming a pair of procedure penalties along the way. On first down, Archer executed a short pitch-pass to Isiah Arrington for 15 yards to the 47. Two penalties and three plays later Archer scrambled to the sideline for four yards at the 49, then dumped a short pass over the middle to Arrington, who slipped an initial tackle attempt before finding daylight and outrunning the defense to the end zone. Archer’s two-point pass to Daniel Burton was good, making the score 14-0.

Forcing another Pea Ridge punt, the visitors went right back to work on offense, starting at the Blackhawks’ 44. But this time it took only one snap to reach the end zone, a long scoring run by Samuel Burton right through the middle of the Pea Ridge defense. The extra point kick by Zachery Edwards was good for a 21-0 Greenwood advantage, still in the first period.

Another defensive stand by the visitors forced yet another Pea Ridge punt, returned 21 yards by Daniel Burton to near the midfield stripe. From their own 48, the Bulldogs got a big gainer on first down when Archer connected with Arrington on a long pass completion. The leaping freshman receiver battled the defensive back for the catch, coming down with the jump ball at the home 25-yard-line. Archer then threw a quick hitter to receiver Jackson Cole, who turned it into a touchdown, streaking down the sideline for the score. The PAT by Edwards was good, making the score 28-0 early in the second quarter.

A poor Pea Ridge punt set up Greenwood’s next score moments later. From the Blackhawks’ 25, the Jr. ‘Dogs scored in two plays, the first one a 14-yard run by Jeremy Lawyer to the 12, and the second one a pass to Daniel Burton for the touchdown. However, the point after failed, leaving the score at 34-0.

The visitors’ final score came just before the half ended after Pea Ridge tried and failed to execute a fake punt, giving Greenwood the ball at the home 20-yard-line. On the first snap, Arkansas rolled to his right and found Burton wide open again for the easy touchdown toss. The kick failed again, but the mercy rule had been triggered and the Bulldogs took their 40-0 lead into the locker room at the break.

With most or all their starters on the sideline, the Jr. ‘Dogs returned to the field in the second half, but ran only a handful of offensive plays with the clock running continuously. The lone offensive highlight of the half for Greenwood came on its opening possession when running back Zachery Zitsman broke a 56-yard run deep into Pea Ridge territory. But a fumble ended the scoring threat moments later. The Greenwood defensive reserves also did their jobs well, preserving the 40-0 shutout.

Later, Greenwood Head Coach Shannon Rhea talked about the win. “We came out and executed and did what we needed to do. I was real pleased we got a lead and were able to move the ball and score like we did. We were able to throw the ball around and the offensive line did a good job protecting us. We also got some guys in for the second half and rewarded them for their hard work.”

Just before this article was posted on Sunday, it was learned that Little Rock Parkview has now backed out of next week’s contest with Greenwood, the game that was picked up to replace the cancelled Booneville game earlier this season. Unless a last-minute replacement can be found, which seems unlikely, it means the Jr. ‘Dogs will have played only five games in the season’s first eight weeks. Obviously, Coach Rhea and his staff are not happy, though he declined to reveal the reason for Parkview’s cancellation. Originally, this coming Thursday was scheduled to be an open date.

“It’s kind of disappointing that we aren’t going to be able to play that game [at Parkview],” said Rhea. “We missed Booneville, Northside, and now this one. We’ve lost three games [canceled] and I know the players are disappointed and tired of just practicing all the time. But those are the cards we’re dealt, and we’ve got to do the best we can.”

If nothing changes, the Bulldogs’ next scheduled game is at Harrison on October 21st. They will finish up their regular season and River Valley Conference play at home against Van Buren (10/28) and Alma (11/04).

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