Pine Bluff wingback Walter Ashley (Special to The Commercial/William Harvey)
Pine Bluff quarterback Rickey Clements (Special to The Commercial/William Harvey)
Greenwood wide receiver Austin Harris (Times Record/Jamie Mitchell)
It took Greenwood very little time to get settled into Class 6A. Picking up right where they left off in 5A, the Bulldogs find themselves in today’s state championship against Pine Bluff.
“We knew in January or so that we would be moving up,” coach Rick Jones said. “It has been a year full of new challenges. We have played teams we have never played before and been places we have never been before.”
After eight years in the same conference, Jones said he had no clue what the 6A would be like.
“I’ve never seen some of these teams on tape, let alone in person,” Jones said. “It has been new and interesting and sort of exciting.”
Jones said one aspect he liked was seeing how different coaches are different things.
Greenwood (13-0) will try to stretch its winning streak to 38 games as it faces Pine Bluff at noon today at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
“It has been a fun week, knowing that there are only two teams left,” Jones said. “It is exciting to get to play in Little Rock.
“We are looking forward to the experience and the challenge.”
Although Greenwood is riding the state’s longest winning streak, Jones said he isn’t focused on it, nor does feel any sort of pressure because of it.
“The thing we try to focus on is we want to go 1-0 this week,” Jones said. “We want to do everything in our power and try to do the best we can.
“I don’t think there is any more pressure. Maybe the kids feel like there is, but as coaches we are just trying to win one game every week.”
Jones said it is ridiculous to set out to try win so many in a row.
“We are just trying to win one in a row,” Jones said.
Greenwood is led by junior quarterback Jabe Burgess who has completed 74.8 percent of his passes (205 of 274) and throwing for 2,708 yards and 33 touchdowns with only three interceptions.
“Jabe has done a really good job and has thrown for a high percentage,” Jones said. “He is very accurate.”
Running back Hoyt Smith has rushed for 966 yards on 127 carries with 12 touchdowns. Drew Morgan has 682 rushing yards on 73 carries with 17 touchdowns.
Morgan, who has orally committed to Arkansas State, also has 1,035 receiving yards on 79 catches with 13 touchdowns.
Still, even with all of their offensive weapons, Jones said he is concerned about Pine Bluff.
“They present a lot of problems,” Jones said. “We have been watching film since Saturday and they are an impressive football team.
“They have great technique, they tackle well and they have great speed.”
Before last week’s game against Jonesboro, senior quarterback Rickey Clements led Pine Bluff with more than 1,324 passing yards on 69 completions with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions. Tyrone Payne caught 25 passes for 470 yards and three touchdowns.
Walter Ashley has rushed for more than 1,035 yards on 133 carries with 12 touchdowns and also has nine punt returns for 226 yards and one touchdown. Updated statistics were not available.
“Offensively, they have some game breakers,” Jones said. “They have guys who can make plays. Obviously, (Ashley) in the backfield, but there are a lot of guys who break it open at any moment.”
Jones said Pine Bluff’s offensive line present a size problem for Greenwood’s defense, which has been inconsistent through out the season.
“We knew we would struggle this season because we lost a lot of guys and it has been a rebuilding year for us on defense,” Jones said. “We are not very big and that can be bad for us.
“We are pretty small, but we get to the ball and we have a lot of fire and grit, but we have also given up too many big plays.”
Greenwood gave up 508 total yards to El Dorado last week, after holding Little Rock Parkview to 148 yards the week before.
“It is the job of the offense to score more and the job of the defense to try to hold,” Jones said. “It takes a team effort. Both of them have to work together.
“If we practice hard and try to keep it contained, we will be all right. It is all about doing the little things right.”