It was a crazy week for the Bulldogs and their coaching staff that ended with a surprising outcome. After their season-opening win at Fort Smith Southside, they spent the remainder of the weekend reviewing video and preparing for their next opponent, Fort Smith Northside. But then the unexpected happened. Northside had a Covid-19 scare and cancelled football practice and their scheduled game at Greenwood, leaving the Bulldogs without a week two opponent.
By now you know the rest of the story. A few hasty phone calls later and Springdale Har-Ber was added to the schedule in place of the Grizzlies, causing the coaching staff to scramble and come up with a completely new game plan, especially on defense. But whatever magic they used, it worked beyond everyone’s expectations. In a post-game interview this past Saturday, Coach Young admitted he was pleasantly surprised by the margin of victory in the 33-0 win.
“I was very surprised,” he said. “[Har-Ber’s] got a good football team and they’re going to win a lot of games this year. They are very physical with a lot of good players, and they are well-coached. That made the win even more special.”
Offensively, the Bulldogs accumulated 337 yards, 259 through the air and 78 on the ground, while converting on six of their 13 third down opportunities or 46%. The varsity starters had 10 possessions, five of which ended in touchdowns and four others in punts.
Quarterback L.D. Richmond was good on 82% of his passes, completing 23 of 28 attempts for a pair of touchdowns. Five receivers caught passes and four of the five caught at least five balls. Running back Hunter Wilkinson had just one catch, but it was for 32 yards and set up his own rushing touchdown on the next play.
The other top receivers included Luke Brewer and Caden Brown, each with six catches, Brewer for 66 yards and two touchdowns, while Brown had 43 yards in receptions. Jase Strozier and Peyton Carter both had five catches for 53 and 43 yards, respectively.
Despite the lopsided margin of victory, the Bulldogs had trouble running against Har-Ber’s big defensive front. Wilkinson ran 21 times for just 59 yards, but two touchdowns. Richmond ran six times for 18 yards and Caden Brown had one carry for a single yard. The Bulldogs had one turnover, a meaningless interception late in the game.
Defensively, the ‘Dogs were lights out in preserving their first shutout of the 2020 season and currently have a string of six scoreless quarters stretching back to halftime of the Southside game. Defensive coordinator Jason Gill and his staff have done an exceptional job preparing their players so far this season.
“We played a good football team,” said Young of the Har-Ber Wildcats, “[but] our defense played really well. Har-Ber is a heck of a football team. They’re big and physical, [but] we played a great first half. In the second half we slowed down a little trying to run some clock and weren’t very efficient on offense. [But] it was a great win for the Bulldogs.”
Asked to describe the chain of events that brought the two teams together, the coach said, “I got a call from our athletic director [last] Sunday night about 7 o’clock that Northside was out and were not going to play. So we got on the phone immediately and started making calls. I think Dr. [Dustin] Smith talked to Springdale’s AD and I called Coach Wood. We made the decision pretty quick to play each other.
“We traded film about 9 o’clock Sunday night and I shot it to my coaches, and they went to work,” continued Young. “They came up with a great game plan. It was a long weekend for the coaching staff because they had to prepare twice, but I appreciate all the time those guys put in to get the kids prepared, and I think it showed.”
“There’s two big parts that people need to understand,” he added. “Number one is just the preparation that our defensive staff put in. They had a great plan. But the second part is that our kids flat out played great and executed the plan. You can have a good plan, but if you don’t play well, if you don’t tackle and don’t cover, it doesn’t matter. Our kids played outstanding. They played hard.
“Several kids came up at different times to make huge plays,” said Young. “It started with [Colin] Daggett on the hitch screen on fourth-and-one,” referring to Har-Ber’s opening possession of the game. “He was pretty loose, and he saw it and came up like a missile [to make the stop], and it really changed the game. If they go down and score on that first drive, it’s probably a different ballgame.”
The coach also mentioned the turnovers created by his defense. “We had three interceptions and a fumble recovery. Not only did we shut them down defensively, but we forced some turnovers and had a couple good [interception] returns as well. They put [our offense] in good situations.”
Concerning senior quarterback L.D. Richmond, Young said, “I think Coach [Zach] Watson has done a great job with L.D. He was really prepared. He was over 80% [completion rate] and was very efficient. There were a couple of throws we’d like to have back, but overall I’m just so pleased with him and the direction our offense is headed.”
Asked about the Bulldogs’ somewhat anemic (just 78 yards) running game against the Wildcats, Young said, “Their personnel had a lot to do with that. They are really good up front. The strength of their defense is their line and their linebackers. They made it hard to run. We made some big plays in the running game, but it seemed like every time we did, we had a penalty to bring it back, and we’ve got to correct that.”
As for Greenwood’s linebacker corps, Young has been pleased with the early results. “I think we’ve got a deep group and I’m very happy with how they have played. We’ve got some guys, led by Jordan [Hanna], making plays all over the field. Parker Gill, Conner Marvin, and Colt Owenby had really good games, and those are guys who weren’t varsity players for us last year, and we’re very happy with how they are playing.
“We’ve [also] got some depth with [senior] Bryce Pettigrew, [senior] Angel Hernandez, and [sophomore] Evan Williams who we feel like can help us as the season goes on. It was a group we were concerned about in pre-season, but they have really developed into a solid, deep group with six or seven guys that can play.”
The coach was also delighted with the performance of his receivers against the Wildcats, particularly Luke Brewer, Peyton Carter, and Jase Strozier. “Brewer caught our eye early in pre-season practice,” said Young. “He’s a dynamic player who can go up and get it and do some things after the catch. Peyton [also] made a couple of good plays and I was really happy with Jase Strozier. He made three big first down catches.”
Turning his attention to this week’s opponent, the Choctaw (OK) Yellowjackets, Young said, “They’re a really good football team. They’ve got four or five kids with division one [college] offers.” Choctaw lost its opener at Springdale (AR), 46-18, then defeated Van Buren (28-10) last Friday.
“Their first game they were quarantined that whole week and didn’t practice one day. They got off the bus and played Springdale, then last night they beat a good Van Buren team pretty handily,” explained Young. “[But] you can’t compare scores. Van Buren beat Springdale a couple touchdowns. Springdale beat Choctaw a couple touchdowns. Then Choctaw beat Van Buren. So it’s all about matchups. When you start comparing scores you drive yourself crazy. It will be a good challenge for us.”
Asked about the Yellowjackets’ offense, Young said, “Choctaw will be a lot more skilled than Har-Ber. They’re a spread team. They are going to throw it around, [and] they’ve got athletes all over the field. They spread it out and try to play fast. It’s a program that’s had a lot of success recently. They’ve got a new coaching staff over there and they made a good run in the playoffs last year and are one of the early favorites in 6A this year [in Oklahoma].”
Young also addressed his team’s injury status, and all appears to be well. “We’re healthy, knock on wood,” he said. “We’re as healthy as we can be right now, and we kept everybody healthy last night [against Har-Ber].”
Finally, Coach Young assessed his team’s play so far this season through two games, saying, “We’ve gotten off to a great start, but football is one week at a time. You’re never as good as you think you are and you’re never as bad as you think you are. We’ve just got to come out and have a great practice on Monday and be completely focused on Choctaw.”
This week’s game will also serve as homecoming for the Bulldogs, a little earlier than normal, perhaps due to the shadow of Covid-19 hanging over this season. The coach wasn’t sure about that, but said, “It will be neat for the kids and the student body. [But] we’ll just show up and play football.”