Photographs by Thomas Metthe
Greenwood Coach Rick Jones (left) celebrates with his players after the’ Bulldogs 52-14 victory over Pine Bluff on Friday night in the Class 6A championship game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. It was Greenwood’s eighth state championship, the seventh under Jones.
Saturday, December 2, 2017
There was no denying the Greenwood Bulldogs a third time in the Class 6A state championship game.
Senior quarterback Connor Noland completed 20 of 27 passes for 304 yards with 4 touchdowns and 1 interception in the Bulldogs' 52-14 rout of the Pine Bluff Zebras on Friday night at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
Noland, who earned the game's MVP award, threw scoring passes of 49 and 9 yards to junior wide receiver Peyton Holt, 45 yards to senior running back Kenny Wood, and 22 yards to senior wide receiver Kade Orlicek.
"He's a special young man," said Greenwood Coach Rick Jones of Noland, who has orally committed to play football and baseball at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. "What people don't understand is he's a better young man than he is a player. He's a pretty good player. I think everybody saw that tonight."
Greenwood (13-0), the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's No. 1 team in Class 6A for the entire 2017 season and 6A-West Conference champions, won its first state championship since 2012 and eighth overall. The Sebastian County school was making its third appearance in a row in the 6A state title game, but lost to Pine Bluff in 2015 and Russellville in 2016.
Winning a state championship was satisfying for Noland.
"We've worked three years for this, for this exact moment," Noland said. "We're excited to be here. Excited to close it out like we did."
Greenwood, which led 31-14 at halftime, outgained Pine Bluff 490-162.
Holt caught 14 passes for 197 yards and 2 touchdowns. Wood finished with 103 yards and 2 touchdowns on 11 carries.
Pine Bluff took a 7-0 lead with 9:00 left in the first quarter on sophomore quarterback Tyler Foots' 43-yard touchdown pass to senior Jyrimee Thompson.
It was all Greenwood from there.
On the Bulldogs' first offensive play of the game, Wood ran 73 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 with 8:38 left in the first quarter.
Senior Grant Ennis' 30-yard field goal at the 5:13 mark of the first quarter gave Greenwood its first lead, 10-7.
Greenwood extended its lead to 17-7 with 2:28 left in the first quarter on Wood's second touchdown run, this one a 5-yarder.
With 11:51 left in the second quarter, Noland found a wide-open Holt over the middle for a 49-yard touchdown to make it 24-7.
Foots was intercepted by senior linebacker Nick Vota. The turnover set up Noland's 22-yard touchdown pass to Orlicek for a 31-7 lead with 10:35 left in the second quarter.
Pine Bluff pulled within 31-14 with 53 seconds left before halftime on Foots' 1-yard run.
Greenwood added to its lead in the third quarter with senior Jackson Webb's 57-yard run and Wood's 45-yard scoring reception from Noland, which made it 45-14 with 7:55 remaining in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs invoked the mercy rule with 2:04 left in the third quarter when Noland threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Holt.
Pine Bluff (11-2), the 6A-West Conference champion, was led by Foots, who threw for 80 yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions and ran for 51 yards and another score.
Zebras Coach Bobby Bolding, who has led the Jefferson County school to two state championships during his 11-year tenure, credited the Bulldogs.
"Greenwood is just a good football team," Bolding said. "They executed better than we did, and they got after us. Those three turnovers in the first half killed us, and gave them fuel for the fire. So you've gotta tip your hat to them. They did what they needed to do."
Jones coached in his 10th state championship game with Greenwood on Friday. Winning his seventh title was a satisfying feeling for him after his team's last two championship games ending in losses.
"It feels really good," Jones said. "You don't want to get into the habit of not getting it done when you come here. It's a lot of hard work to get here. I take my hat off to Pine Bluff. We've been on the other end. They're a great football team. Coach [Bolding] has done a great job. We feel very fortunate to be here.
"Our kids, they worked hard. They got after it all year long. I was very proud of them."
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