LITTLE ROCK — Yes, the Greenwood Bulldogs’ (13-0, 7-0) offense was impressive, out-gaining the Pine Bluff Zebras (12-2, 7-0) 490 to 162 in total yards of offense.
The difference in the game, however, was the showcase by the Greenwood defensive players, who pitched a second-half shutout in a 52-14 win over the Zebras for the 6A state championship title Friday at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
Pine Bluff Head Coach Bobby Bolding eluded to the fact that no matter how good a quarterback or running back is, if they don't have the protection from up front, it's a wash. The Zebras’ offensive line got better as the season progressed, but on Friday, the Bulldogs’ front seven got the best of them.
Bolding pointed out one particular Bulldog they knew could give them a lot of problems and, indeed, it happened.
"We struggled blocking that guy right there, number 63," Bolding said as the Greenwood players were celebrating on the field. "We kind of handled the rest of them, but we didn't handle him. We knew we were going to struggle with him, that's why we tried to go to (the) edge, but we had issues protecting with him as well."
Greenwood senior defensive lineman Jon Womack is who Bolding spoke highly of, but a host of others contributed to holding the Zebras to their second-lowest point total of the season.
Greenwood senior linebacker Nick Vota finished the game with 13 tackles and an interception.
Prior to kickoff, the atmosphere in War Memorial Stadium was electric, as fans of both perennial programs were ready for a show.
The Zebras struck first with an eight-play drive covering 70 yards. Pine Bluff sophomore quarterback Tyler Foots hooked up with senior receiver Diaundre Ellison a couple times to help move the Zebras into Bulldogs territory. Then the biggest offensive play of the game for the Zebras happened when Foots hit his senior receiver Jyrimee Thompson on a post for a 43-yard touchdown to give Pine Bluff their only lead of the game at 7-0.
To sum up Greenwood's day on offense, they scored on their first play from scrimmage with senior running back Kenny Wood finding a couple creases and taking it 73 yards for the game-tying touchdown.
Between three-and-outs and turnovers, the Zebras just couldn't catch a pace on offense. All three interceptions thrown by Foots were in the first half. Bolding explained how much those really hurt the team.
The three turnovers in the first half killed us," Bolding said. "That really killed us and gave them fuel for the fire."
Greenwood senior quarterback Connor Noland took advantage of breakdowns in the Zebras’ coverage. Noland finished the game completing 20/27 passes for 304 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Two of those touchdowns went to his favorite target, junior Peyton Holt, who recorded 14 catches for 197 yards.
According to Bolding, the busted coverages forced the Zebras to try and alter some things schematically, but it just deepened the wound.
"We had a couple guys that kept messing up in the first quarter," Bolding said. "We couldn't get ’em fixed so we tried to change what we were doing, and that just made it worse. We couldn't get the guy fixed in the first quarter."
Pine Bluff's offense had been rolling heading into this one, but that momentum came to a stop as the Greenwood played a solid game.
Foots completed 4/12 passes for 80 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Foots did what he could on the ground, carrying the ball 23 times for 51 yards and a touchdown.
Zebras senior linebacker Isiah Singleton was named the player of the game for Pine Bluff, finishing with 11 tackles, and an interception.
As for the Bulldogs, Bolding tipped his hat, so to speak.
"They're just a good football team," Bolding said. "They obviously executed better than us. They kind of got after us up front, especially our offensive line. We weren't ever really able to get the run game going."