The 2018 gridiron season got off to a dubious start for Greenwood’s freshmen Bulldogs, but they finished with a flourish last Thursday night on the strength of a 17-14 win over longtime rival Alma.
After losing one non-conference game to inclement weather, they ended the season with an 8-1 record, masters of the River Valley Conference (RVC) with an unbeaten mark of 7-0.
The Jr. ‘Dogs’ season opener against Shiloh Christian was cancelled due to stormy weather. They lost the next week to a very good North Little Rock team, which looked more like a high school squad than a bunch of freshmen. Greenwood led 7-0 at the half and 14-0 in the third quarter before falling 27-14.
The GHS freshmen then won five straight games, and Greenwood’s 17-13 win over Harrison two weeks ago put the Jr. ‘Dogs in the driver’s seat for the RVC title, giving them incentive to finish strong and secure the outright league championship.
At Alma the first half was largely shaped by mistakes made by both teams. Three fumbles led to two touchdowns as both teams fought to a 14-all stalemate at the half. Greenwood scored the only points of the second half on a field goal, accounting for the winning margin.
The visitors received the opening kick, but on the second snap from scrimmage the ball came loose and the Jr. Airedales recovered, stealing an offensive possession from Greenwood.
But the defense has been Greenwood’s strength all season long, and once again refused to give ground. Alma made one first down, but the drive stalled at the 19-yard-line when a fourth down run was stopped short of the first down marker.
The offense still couldn’t get things going, however, and punted moments later, giving Alma the ball with great field position at the Greenwood 36. But just when it appeared the Greenwood defense had prevailed again, Alma quarterback Hunter McAllister connected with receiver Conner Stacy at the 1-yard-line to set up the game’s first score.
After a bad snap put the ball back at the 11-yard-line, McAllister and Stacy hooked up again on fourth down for the score in the left side of the end zone. The extra point failed and may have been partially blocked by Greenwood’s Sebastian Crumb. Alma led 6-0 with 39 seconds left in the opening quarter.
As the game moved into the second period the Jr. Bulldogs put together a 12-play drive to tie the score and then take the lead on Ben Moy’s extra point. Fletcher Gill covered the onside kick attempt by Alma at the Greenwood 38 to start the possession.
Colin Dagget ran twice to the 50, before Cameron Krone bowled straight ahead to the Alma 45. Quarterback Noah Jantzen then connected on a quick sideline pass to Bryce Caldwell to the 35 for another first down.
Sebastian Crumb ran twice to the 25 before Krone got five more yards to the 20, moving the sticks, then ran again to the 17. A swing pass to Dagget reached the eight, followed by three handoffs to Krone, who finally scored from inside the one. Moy’s kick put Greenwood on top 7-6.
But with five minutes left in the first half, Alma had plenty of time to score again, and did following a long kickoff return to the Greenwood 39. Seven plays and one facemask penalty later the Jr. Airedales scored on a three-yard run by Stacy. A two-point play was also successful to put Alma back on top, 14-7.
With 1:47 remaining before the break, the Jr. ‘Dogs hoped to score again as well, and they did, just not in the fashion they had imagined. After quickly advancing to the Alma 10 after a long run by Jantzen, Greenwood’s second fumble of the half ended the possession.
But the visiting defense rose up and stopped the Alma offense in its tracks. Greenwood called a pair of timeouts to preserve some time and forced a punt from inside the home 10-yard-line.
The Jr. ‘Dogs rushed hard and forced the punter to alter his path, causing him to whiff on the punt. The loose pigskin was then scooped up by Bryce Caldwell and returned for a touchdown. Moy added the extra point to tie the score 14-all at the intermission.
The second half was dominated by the visiting defense. Alma opened with the football, but quickly punted it away. The Jr. ‘Dogs then moved to take the lead for good on their first possession of the half.
Starting at its own 23, Greenwood drove 72 yards in 13 plays, reaching the Alma 5-yard-line before Ben Moy booted a 21-yard field goal on fourth down with 1:57 left in the third quarter. Only two plays in the drive gained more than 10 yards, both runs by quarterback Noah Jantzen.
The home team had two more offensive possessions in the game, but both resulted in fourth down failures as the Greenwood defense continued to stifle the Alma offense. The Jr. Bulldogs’ offense took over for the last time with 1:56 remaining in the game and quickly ran out the clock.
Greenwood Head Coach Shannon Rhea was affectionately soaked by some of his players in the post-game celebration. Still wet and shivering in the cold November air, he talked about the win.
“I was really proud of the boys,” said Rhea. “We didn’t play very [well] in some areas, but we had enough fortitude to keep plugging away, and we played a lot better in the second half. We got the lead and were able to do some things against them. We got pressure on them [defensively] and we tackled a lot better.”
“[Alma’s] quarterback is a good runner,” the coach added. “He’s lanky. [We] tackle him and he falls forward for five yards. They [also] had a good receiver that was giving us trouble. They were throwing it up high and he was making plays against our secondary in the first half. Their plan was to shorten the game, and they did a good job of it in the first half.”
Asked about the future development of his players, Rhea said, “If they stick together and do the right things, they have a chance to be really good in high school. I think they will compete for a state championship. I think they are that good. They have enough talent in all positions.”