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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS: Greenwood looking to end title drought

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Photographs by Special to the Democrat-Gazette/JIMMY JONES

Greenwood quarterback Connor Noland (center) has helped lead the Bulldogs to the Class 6A championship game for the third consecutive season, taking on Pine Bluff tonight at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. The Bulldogs lost to Russellville in the title game last season and to Pine Bluff in 2015.

GREENWOOD — The Greenwood Bulldogs know all too well the feeling of losing the Class 6A state championship football game.

That’s just how the team ended its year the past two seasons. But Greenwood is back again unbeaten for a third consecutive season heading into the title game.

This time around the Bulldogs hope to not leave Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium empty handed against Pine Bluff tonight.

“It’s hard to win these things,” Greenwood Coach Rick Jones said. “It’s easy to lose them, too. We have to do what it takes to win because we didn’t do it last year. We know what it’s like to be there. We are excited about the opportunity.”

After dropping the title game to Russellville 37-23 last year and 28-21 to Pine Bluff two years ago, Greenwood changed its team philosophy. The Bulldogs moved its focus to day-to-day activity instead of the big picture.

So far so good, as it has helped Greenwood throughout another unbeaten season winning its games with a 32-point average margin of victory.

“We are feeling good heading into this game,” Greenwood senior quarterback Connor Noland said. “We’ve had a good year. We’ve taken this year one game at a time, and it’s worked out for us. Now we are here heading into the state final enjoying it.”

Noland, who is committed to play at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, has completed 205 of 296 passes for 2,494 yards with 31 touchdowns for the Bulldogs.

Senior running back Kenny Wood again has led the way on the ground by rushing for 1,617 yards with 27 touchdowns on 234 carries.

Junior wide receiver Peyton Holt has helped keep the offense balanced with a breakout season. He leads the team in receiving yards with 1,154 on 87 catches including 15 touchdowns after finishing with 496 yards a season ago.

The Greenwood defense has been a big key, allowing about 11 points per game while providing turnovers and good field position for the offense.

West Memphis was limited to zero third-down conversions in its 10 attempts in a 45-14 loss against Greenwood last week in the semifinals.

Seniors Nick Vota (143 total tackles), Camden Beshears

(88), Jon Womack (80), Dylan Vota (74) and Hunter Webb

(71) all have helped guide the Greenwood defense.

“This has been the best defense for us since I’ve been here,” Jones said. “They’ve really done a great job. They have played so hard. They chase the football. They have the mentality you want for playing defense.”

Greenwood (12-0) is no stranger to their upcoming 6A state championship opponent in Pine Bluff (11-1).

Since moving to Class 6A in 2012, Greenwood will have matched up against Pine Bluff in five of its six years in postseason play after tonight’s game.

“It’s been a great, great series,” Jones said. “We enjoy the challenge. They are a fast, big and athletic football team. It’s going to take a great effort to get it done this Friday.”

The Bulldogs won their most recent championship in 2012 with a 51-44 victory against Pine Bluff. During the next season, Pine Bluff snapped Greenwood’s 50-game winning streak with a 37-34 victory in the state semifinals.

The Bulldogs finished with a 7-4 record in 2014. This Greenwood senior class then played a part in turning things around after that, helping guide the team to a 36-2 record in the past three seasons.

Greenwood met Pine Bluff again in the 2015 state championship but dropped the title game 28-21. The Bulldogs then evened the series at 2-2 with a 31-30 victory in the semifinals last season. Greenwood will be making its 12th appearance in the state championship final, which includes 10 for Jones in his 14 years while at Greenwood. It will also be the team’s third consecutive season to make it to the title game.

“It’s always come down to the last possession,” Jones said. “It’s been a great rivalry. They do a great job coaching, and their kids always play hard. They play hard and clean. We have a tremendous amount of respect for them.”

The margin of victory in the past match-ups has totaled just 18 points in the four games, which has Jones expecting another close one in the rivalry tonight.

“It will be a dog fight for sure,” Jones said. “We talk about having the mentality that one play can make the difference in the game. You never know which play it will be, so you play as hard as you can. It’s what we call the law of the jungle. We’ll need that attitude.”

State championship

schedule

At War Memorial Stadium, Little Rock

TODAY’S GAME

CLASS 6A

Greenwood vs. Pine Bluff, 7 p.m.

SATURDAY’S GAMES

CLASS 7A

North Little Rock vs. Bentonville, noon

CLASS 5A

Little Rock McClellan vs. Pulaski Academy, 6:30 p.m.

TICKETS $7 at War Memorial Stadium

Senior running back Kenny Wood (left) has led the Greenwood rushing attack this season, rushing for 1,617 yards with 27 touchdowns on 234 carries.

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