LITTLE ROCK – Greenwood won its third straight state championship and 38th straight game by defeating Pine Bluff 51-44 Saturday in the 6A final at War Memorial Stadium.
“I’m just really proud of the way we’ve prepared on a week-to-week basis,” Greenwood coach Rick Jones said. “We are just trying to go 1-0 every week and then put all of our attention and all of our focus on going 1-0.”
For the second straight year, Greenwood senior Drew Morgan, who has orally committed to Arkansas State, was awarded the game’s Most Valuable Player.
“He loves big games and he loves to play in games that count,” Jones said. “He did all you can expect somebody to do.”
Pine Bluff nearly came back in the fourth quarter after trailing by two scores.
Capping a drive that took over 8 minutes, Rickey Clements completed a touchdown pass to Devarious Rice from 10 yards out on third down. That would cut the deficit to 51-44 with 4:28 left in the game.
With only one timeout left and still trailing by a touchdown, Pine Bluff needed a stop on defense. And for a moment, it appeared the Zebras had stopped.
Greenwood (14-0) was facing a fourth and short and was lining up to punt it away, meaning Pine Bluff (12-2) would get the ball back with less than 2 minutes left.
But Greenwood had different plans. After a timeout, the Bulldogs decided to go for it and, thanks to Saul Palmer, would convert the fourth down after a 4-yard pick up. That sealed the win and the championship for Greenwood.
“Hats off to their offense,” Pine Bluff head coach Bobby Bolding said. “We haven’t had guys that open on us all year. I’ve got no explanation for it.”
Greenwood took its first lead of the game near the end of the first half, when Morgan scored from 2 yards out to give the Bulldogs a 31-28 lead with 2:10 left in the second quarter.
“Defensively, we were struggling so much,” Bolding said. “I don’t even know who was making plays for them. But I’ve seen (Morgan) on film and he is a stud.
“We just wanted to recognize where he was at on the field, but we really didn’t stop much of anything.”
Beginning at its own 37-yard line, Greenwood’s Jabe Burgess completed a pass to Jansen Stein for 22 yards to the Pine Bluff 41, for a first down.
Back-to-back runs by Hoyt Smith set up a second-and-two at the Pine Bluff 26. Burgess completed a pass to Morgan for a first down inside the 13-yard line.
After a timeout and facing a third-and-goal, Morgan rushed to the right side on a counter run to score.
“It was hard coming in this week,” Morgan said. “We knew we had a big challenge ahead of us. But I’m proud of them.”
Morgan finished the game with nine carries for 83 yards and two touchdowns. He also had four catches for 87 yards and a touchdown.
Burgess was 14 of 22 for 396 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
In the second half, after Pine Bluff tied the game at 37 with a 30-yard field goal by Austin McGehee, Greenwood took its second and final lead of the game.
Morgan returned the kickoff 38 yards to the Pine Bluff 42-yard line. Seven plays later, Burgess rushed over the right end for a 1-yard score to give Greenwood a 44-37 lead.
“I give a lot of credit to Pine Bluff,” Jones said. “They never gave up. They converted 14 fourth downs in the fourth quarter – or at least it seemed like it.
“I’m just really proud of the way our guys hung in there.”
Pine Bluff’s touchdown in the first minute of the game gave the Zebras the lead and began what was a high-octane first quarter for both teams. On the first play of the game, Rakeem Leverett intercepted Burgess and returned it to the Greenwood 21-yard line.
Two plays later, Walter Ashley scored from 4 yards out to give the Zebras a 7-0 lead with 11:11 left in the first quarter.
Greenwood answered right back when Morgan scored on a 28-yard run to tie the game at 7 with 10 minutes left. Pine Bluff would score two more times by the end of the first quarter to take a 21-14 lead heading into the second.
“Pine Bluff is a great football team,” Jones said. “We made a couple mistakes early, but our guys just kind of hung in there and played great Greenwood Bulldog football.”
Clements rushed for 143 yards on 15 carries with a touchdown. He was also was 13 of 26 for 144 yards and three touchdowns and an interception.
Ashley had 24 carries for 90 yards and two touchdowns. Paris Mack led Pine Bluff with four catches for 64 yards and a touchdown.
Tyrone Payne also had a touchdown catch.