The Greenwood Junior High Bulldogs are off and running again, notching their first win of 2019 last Thursday on the road at Springdale’s Shiloh Christian Academy. The Jr. ‘Dogs are the defending River Valley Conference champions after last season’s perfect 7-0 league record. They finished 8-1 overall, their only loss at North Little Rock, the same team they will play next Thursday.
As is often the case in the season opener, the weather was hot and muggy, but both teams seemed to handle the heat well. Shiloh began the game with an onside kick recovered by Greenwood’s Baylor Hossley near midfield at the visitor’s 47.
With quarterback Storm Scherrey at the controls, the ‘Dogs marched straight down the field and scored in eight plays on a fourth down touchdown pass, but the play was nullified by a penalty. The replay ended with an incompletion, giving the ball over to the Saints.
But the Greenwood defense, which played so well in the pre-season jamboree at Fort Smith Southside, came up big with a turnover on Shiloh’s first possession after the Saints invaded the visitor’s red zone, reaching the 8-yard-line.
After a 15-yard penalty pushed the home team back to the 23, Greenwood’s Adian Gray plucked an errant pass from the air in the end zone for a turnover and a touchback, ending the scoring threat.
Unfortunately, the Bulldogs’ offense returned the favor a few plays later with a lost fumble at the Shiloh 41. The Saints then took advantage of the giveaway by scoring in just two plays. After a two-yard loss to the 39, the home team scored on a deep pass covering 61 yards, but a two-point conversion try failed.
Trailing 6-0 with 7:25 left in the opening half, Greenwood’s offense again got the ball near midfield after a failed onside attempt by the Shiloh kicking team. But seven plays later the promising possession ended with a pass interception by the Saints. But they weren’t done.
Shiloh’s defense made two more interceptions in the remaining five minutes, one off quarterback Hunter Houston and another one off Scherrey. But Greenwood’s stingy defense wouldn’t allow the Saints to capitalize on either turnover and the score remained 6-0 at the break.
Shiloh received the opening kick of the second half, but once again the visiting defense withstood the challenge, with a little help from a huge penalty that voided a potential Saints’ touchdown and forced a punt. Greenwood’s offense then struck like lightning on its first play of the half.
Running back Javon Williamson took the handoff at the Greenwood 32 and found ample running room around left end, turning the corner and streaking down the sideline almost untouched for the score. Kicker Steven Duran added the extra point to put the visitors on top, 7-6.
The next two possessions ended with punts by both teams, and the Greenwood defense stopped a promising Saints drive near midfield, giving the ball to the Bulldogs at the Shiloh 45 midway through the fourth quarter.
Keeping the ball on the ground, Greenwood needed just five plays to build on its lead. Williamson carried three times for 43 yards, followed by Jake Glover for five yards and quarterback Storm Scherrey for seven yards and the touchdown. Duran’s kick was true and Greenwood led 14-6 with 3:44 left in the game.
The Greenwood defense then made one final stand as Shiloh was running out of time and needed to throw the football. After picking up a first down at their own 42, the Saints misfired on their next three pass attempts, the last of which was intercepted by defensive back Jake Glover at the visitor’s 40.
The Bulldogs then ran out the clock by keeping the ball on the ground, mostly in the hands of Williamson, who finished the game with well over 100 yards rushing.
In the aftermath of Thursday’s victory, Head Coach Shannon Rhea talked about his team’s play, especially his defense, receivers, and Williamson.
“It was a good win for us,” said Rhea, “especially since we were down 6-0 at half. [But] we could not sustain anything in the first half due to turnovers and penalties.
“I thought our tackling improved in the second half,” he added, referring to his team’s difficulty in containing Shiloh’s very talented and mobile quarterback.
Offensively, Rhea was also pleased with the performance of Williamson. “I thought Javon stepped up for us and played a really good game,” said the coach, now in his fifth season at the helm of the Jr. Bulldogs. “He ran tough and helped us control the clock.”
The coach also spoke well of his receiving core, but not specifically on their ability to run routes or catch the football. “I [also] thought our receivers really played well with how they blocked on the edge for [Williamson],” said Rhea.
The Jr. ‘Dogs will make a return trip to Central Arkansas this coming Thursday to once again face North Little Rock, one of the largest junior highs in the state. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.