The Greenwood Bulldogs passed their toughest test of the season last Friday night at home against the visiting El Dorado Wildcats under new head coach Steven Jones, formerly of Junction City.
Coming off an upset loss at home to Lake Hamilton in their conference opener a week earlier, the ‘Cats battled the top-ranked Bulldogs throughout the first half. At one point Greenwood found itself trailing for the first time this season.
But despite their impressive linemen, speedy skill players, and some unexpected offensive tactics in the first half, the Wildcats could not maintain their momentum and intensity and were outscored 28-3 over the final 24 minutes.
Greenwood’s 52-24 victory kept the Bulldogs unbeaten (5-0, 2-0) and atop the state’s Class 6A rankings, while El Dorado fell to 1-4 overall and winless in the 6A West, though the Wildcats are by far the best 1-4 team in the state. Two of their prior losses were to Class 7A schools Conway and Cabot.
With their victory the Bulldogs extended their current winning streak to 17 games, currently the longest such run in the state. Back in 2013 Greenwood set a school mark with 50 consecutive wins spanning four seasons.
“Our defensive coaches did a good job figuring out what they needed to do,” said GHS Head Coach Rick Jones after Friday’s game. “El Dorado came out [offensively] totally different than what we had worked on. That was not what we expected, and it caught us off guard. They had changed some things around. They came loaded and ready to go.
“We’d spent the whole week working on one thing and they came out and did the other,” said Jones. “[But] our coaches did a great job of making adjustments.”
The first two quarters were all about offense as both teams trekked up and down the field. They combined for 28 points and nearly 400 yards in the opening quarter before Greenwood managed to build a 24-21 lead at the break.
Along the way the Wildcats were the first team this season to score on their opening possession against the GHS defense, and the first team to hold a lead over Greenwood.
“That was a great game for us because it was a struggle through the third quarter,” said Coach Jones in his post-game comments. “We were behind for the first time and had to rally – all those little steps you take toward becoming a good football team. We got a taste of it tonight,” he added.
“I told the kids these guys are going to challenge you. They have a lot of speed and a lot of people that can run to the football on defense. If they had caught some of those [passes] they dropped, it could have been a lot different.
The Bulldogs received the opening kick with Caden Brown returning the ball to the GHS 26. Senior quarterback Jace Presley then led his teammates down the field in nine plays for the game’s first touchdown. Five of the nine snaps ended with pass completions, three of them to senior receiver Lazaro Angel.
The last one was a 38-yard scoring pass from Presley to senior Treyton Dawson near the visitor’s sideline. After the catch, Dawson eluded a would-be tackler then sprinted free down the sideline for the score (9:31). The kick by senior Jackson Stewart was good for a 7-0 GHS lead.
But the Wildcats tied the game just over three minutes later after a 10-play drive that covered 81 yards. Quite unexpectedly, every snap of the series was a called pass play, including two that ended in QB sacks by Greenwood’s Jordan Hanna and Tayshaun Leader, both juniors.
The touchdown came on a high arching pass into the end zone from El Dorado quarterback Eli Shepherd to receiver Jarmel Love. The play covered 12 yards and the kick was good to tie the score at 7-all (6:22).
Greenwood scored again less than two minutes later to regain the lead, set up initially by a nice kick return of 27 yards by Caden Brown. Starting from their own 32, the Bulldogs needed just five plays to find pay dirt.
A screen pass from Presley to Wilkinson was good for 13 yards on second down, reaching the 45. Presley then found Dawson for 12 yards to the El Dorado 43, then connected with junior Peyton Carter at the 31.
The touchdown came on the next play, another Presley to Carter pass, this one over the middle to the big receiver, who carried in for the score. Stewart’s extra point was good for a 14-7 GHS lead (4:48), still in the first quarter.
But Greenwood fans hardly returned to their seats before the Wildcats responded with a big play to tie the score once again. On their first snap from scrimmage after kickoff, Shepherd connected with C.J. Cook on a sideline pass that turned into a 77-yard reception and sprint to the end zone. The kick was good (4:29).
With the score tied at 14-all, both teams took a break from scoring for the remainder of the opening stanza. Jordan Hanna recovered a fumble in El Dorado territory, but the Bulldogs’ offense sputtered and failed on fourth down. The teams then traded punts as the game moved into the second quarter.
But the Wildcats’ next possession ended with points. Starting from their own 40 the ‘Cats needed 10 plays to take the lead, putting the Bulldogs behind for the first time all season. The touchdown came on a 4-yard run by Alex Hicks. The kick put El Dorado up 21-14 at the 8:05 mark of the second period.
But if the GHS offense felt any pressure to respond, they didn’t show it, calmly marching 80 yards in 15 plays, overcoming a pair of procedure penalties along the way. The visitors helped as well with a personal foul penalty.
The score didn’t come easy though. Facing fourth-and-20 at the El Dorado 31, Presley threw deep to Peyton Carter near the visitors’ sideline and the pylon at the front of the end zone.
Carter went up over the defender to make the catch and was ruled out-of-bounds at the 1-yard-line. Hunter Wilkinson scored the touchdown (4:23) on the next snap and Stewart’s kick tied the game again, 21-21.
The Wildcats hurt themselves on the ensuing kickoff by committing a penalty, and started their next possession at their own 10-yard-line. An 8-yard loss on third down forced them to punt from their own end zone, giving Greenwood the football in excellent field position with 3:19 remaining.
Junior Caden Brown’s punt return was good for 21 yards to the El Dorado 30. But after getting nine yards on a QB draw on first down, Presley was shaken up on the next play and had to leave the game.
Wilkinson then took two direct snaps, picking up a first down and advancing the ball to the 12-yard-line before backup QB Noah Jantzen entered the game briefly until Presley could return. More direct snaps and running plays followed, but the Bulldogs finally ran out of time at the 3-yard-line, calling their final timeout with two seconds left.
Jackson Stewart then entered to kick the easy field goal and put the Bulldogs on top, 24-21, at the half. Unofficially, Presley finished the first half with 260 yards passing, connecting on 23 of 33 attempts.
But the second half belonged to Greenwood, as it usually does. Good coverage on the second half kickoff pinned the Wildcats deep in their own territory, made worse by a penalty. A quick three-and-out followed, punctuated by a QB sack by Jordan Hanna at the visitors’ 2-yard-line.
El Dorado’s punt was fair caught at the Wildcats’ 34-yard-line and the Bulldogs scored five snaps later. Presley passed to Caden Brown on first down to the 21. After two incompletions and a penalty on El Dorado to the 16, Presley threw to Wilkinson, reaching the two. The junior scored on the next play (10:12) and Stewart’s kick put the Bulldogs up 31-21.
Having allowed 17 unanswered points, El Dorado finally responded with a 57-yard drive that ended with a 36-yard field goal. But even that effort was only made possible by a roughing the punter penalty on the Bulldogs, giving the Wildcats new life, keeping the drive alive. From the Greenwood 19, the home defense tightened up and forced the field goal.
But that was it for the El Dorado offense. Trailing 31-24, the Wildcats managed just one other scoring threat, reaching the Greenwood 29. But on fourth down Greenwood senior linebacker Jayden Martin harassed Shepherd, causing a fumble, which Martin promptly scooped up and returned 58 yards for a touchdown.
Stewart’s extra point was true with 11:48 left in the fourth quarter, and the rout was on. Leading 38-24, the Bulldogs stepped on the gas, adding another touchdown just over three minutes later. It came on a 10-yard pass from Presley to Treyton Dawson, finishing off a 50-yard drive. Peyton Carter also caught a 15-yard pass during the series.
Leading 45-24 with 8:23 left to play, the Bulldogs had the game well in hand when a turnover presented them with one last scoring opportunity. A pass interception by Jayden Jasna, a junior, gave Greenwood the ball at the El Dorado 33.
After a penalty to the 41, senior running back Aaron Ligon rambled 25 yards to the 16, then twice more to the five. But rash of penalties pushed the ‘Dogs back to the 29, threatening to stall the possession before Presley connected with Caden Brown for a 21-yard TD strike in the left side of the end zone. Stewart’s kick accounted for the final score of 52-24.
After the game, Head Coach Rick Jones talked with members of the media on the field. The coach was pleased with the victory and how his team responded to adversity, but was still disappointed in some aspects of their play, especially the penalties.
“I was proud of our defense,” he said. “They hung in there and kept battling. It wasn’t pretty. We made way too many mistakes – fumbled punt and all that kind of stuff. We’ve got to do a lot better.”
Jones continued to heap praise on his senior quarterback, Jace Presley. “He had to grow up some tonight, because it wasn’t easy back there. He was smart with the football.
“Jace really played well. He made great decisions with the football. We were a little off – the wide receivers didn’t play as well as they have in the past. We’ve still got work to do.” Presley finished his night with 370 yards passing.
“[The Wildcats] were giving us different blitzes. Sometimes we were missing pickups and weren’t able to run the football the way we [wanted]. It’s the same story. Getting stopped on fourth-and-two is inexcusable. I’m sick of that. We’re going to have to get better. We [did] made a few [running] first downs, and that was encouraging,” said Jones.
“People that read the paper will not understand just how tough a football game this was,” he continued. “We had to earn everything we got. They’re a physical, tough football team,” referring to the Wildcats.
“It was good for us. We were fortunate that they overthrew some balls and dropped some balls. But I was proud of our secondary. [The defense] played well. I was proud of the way they played in the second half. It was a ball game. It was fun.”
Asked about El Dorado’s remaining schedule and hopes for making the playoffs, Jones said, “They’ve got a chance. There’s no doubt about it. They made a few crucial errors. But they’ve got plenty of speed and those kids up front were pretty good size.”
As for his Bulldogs, Jones is happy to be undefeated, but not so happy with the penalties and lapses in concentration. “It’s so frustrating,” he said. “We had tons of penalties and we deserved every one of them I think. We have to get better. We’ve got a lot of stuff to clean up.”
Finally, Jones confirmed that Noah Jantzen, a sophomore, would take over as the primary backup to Presley after the injury last week to junior Colton Payton, hurt in the junior varsity game. As a freshman last season, Jantzen led the Jr. Bulldogs to a River Valley Conference championship and an 8-1 record.