A couple bad plays and a few bad bounces have made the difference in the Greenwood High School football team’s first two losses against two of the best teams in the state.
And those same woes plagued the Eagles on Saturday afternoon against defending Class AAAA Division II state champion Northwestern.
Greenwood failed to recover a pooch kick that led to a Trojan touchdown before giving up a punt return touchdown right after for a 14-point swing in the first half. And a near-safety, near-defensive touchdown morphed into a back-breaking 78-yard touchdown run in the second half as Northwestern ran away with a 52-24 victory.
“We just have to keep plugging away,” Greenwood coach Dan Pippin said. “At North Augusta last year, we were 12-2 and lost to Northwestern in the semifinals. They’ve gotten beat by a private school from North Carolina and they got beat by Byrnes. They’re not a bad football team.
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“I don’t know what to say, though. There’s not words to express (what keeps happening).”
The teams traded touchdowns in the first quarter, but Northwestern opened up the second quarter by capping off a drive with a three-yard touchdown run on fourth down by quarterback Dupree Hart to take a 14-7 lead.
On the ensuing kick, Northwestern blooped a short kick barely 20 yards downfield. No Greenwood player fielded the ball, though, focusing instead on blocking, and a Northwestern player slid in to recover. Five plays later, Jerry Howard busted off tackle for a 29-yard touchdown.
Greenwood’s next drive fizzled out, and the Eagles punted the ball away. Northwestern’s Julian Shockley fielded and ran five yards before Greenwood’s Tre Williams flew in, wrapped him up and tried to spin him to the ground. Shockley kept his balance, fought off Williams and exploded 70 more yards for a 75-yard touchdown, giving Northwestern a 28-7 advantage.
“Our special teams have been hit and miss. We’ve been really good at times and really bad at times,” Northwestern coach Kyle Richardson said. “We challenged our special teams to be better this week and bottom line, to be special. Getting that pooch kick was huge, and this is the second straight week of having a punt return for a touchdown.
“I was really happy for our kickoff team to respond after we challenged them, and obviously getting punt return points is big, too.”
Greenwood hung around, though. CJ Jackson threw a 30-yard touchdown to Mock Adams just before halftime to trail 28-14 at the break.
Northwestern marched down to score on its opening possession of the second half, but Greenwood answered with a 27-yard field goal by Jack Pierce to stay within striking distance. The Eagles then forced a punt and marched the ball down inside Northwestern’s 10-yard line. But, Jackson fumbled the ball and Northwestern recovered at their own 4-yard line.
And on the first two plays of the fourth quarter, the Trojans put the Eagles away. To open the fourth, Hart dropped back to pass and was swarmed by Greenwood defenders. As Hart was being slung to the ground, the ball flew out of his hands and bounced around the 1-yard line. Greenwood linebackers Temoris Coates and Jamie Callahan both reached for the ball, and it ricocheted out of their hands and into the paws of a Northwestern lineman, who trundled forward 8 yards.
The next play, Hart scrambled off to his left, broke through a pack of Eagles and sprinted away from everyone for a 78-yard touchdown.
“We had told our offense that we need one more score, and if we could get one more, that could break their back hopefully,” Richardson said. “Coach Pippin’s teams, they are always going to play hard for four quarters. We knew it wouldn’t break their backs, but we could at least slow it down with one more.
“And that was a tricky play, they called it a fumble and we got the possession. On the next play, Dupree just made something happen. That’s been him for four years.”
Greenwood then fumbled the ball away, and Northwestern answered with a field goal. Northwestern then picked off Jackson on a tipped pass and marched down field to score again to stretch it out to 52-17.
Malik Carter rumbled through eight defenders for a 50-yard touchdown late in the fourth, but the game was in hand already, and Northwestern headed back to Rock Hill with the win.
“There’s a lot of things we got to get better at, and we will. We’ll be fine,” Pippin said. “We’re getting better. We just have to hang in there. A lot of it has to do with the teams we are playing. You can’t make the mistakes we’re making against the teams we are playing.”