VILONIA — The Vilonia Eagles were great at keepaway Friday night. Their fortunes faded when the game turned to giveaway.
The Eagles stunned and frustrated Greenwood, the top-ranked team in Class 5A, with their ball control offense and trailed 7-3 going into the fourth quarter on homecoming night.
The Bulldogs got a 45-yard field goal from Austin Hartness, then capitalized on two lost Vilonia fumbles to pull away to a 24-3 victory in a game that was much closer than the score on the Phillip Weaver Stadium scoreboard.
The Eagles (4-3, 2-2) used the option portion of their double-wing offense to get to perimeter and control the ball almost the entire first half. Greenwood had only three meaningful possessions the first half (two three and out), then pulled to a 7-3 lead on a late drive culminating in a 16-yard pass from Tyler shook to Spender Harris.
The Eagles’ Kyle Robbins recovered a fumble and a sack by Jordan Ripple neutralized the two possessions Greenwood had in the third quarter, both drives deep into Vilonia territory.
"Yeah, we got frustrated; we never got in any rhythm whatsoever," said Greenwood coach Rick Jones whose Bulldogs went to 6-1, 4-0. "One of the things that made it tough is we like to play fast, get the football and go. We couldn’t do that. His job (pointing to Vilonia coach Jim Stanley) is to frustrate us. He did his job tonight. He won that aspect."
Greenwood finally began to pull away after a high snap on a Vilonia punt that Griffen Nelson bobbled then couldn’t scramble enough for the first down. The Bulldogs gained field position on the Vilonia 33 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The Eagle defense stiffened, but Hartness nailed the field goal with room to spare.
Then, the Eagles’ Zach Mitchell lost fumbles on two straight possessions, both times after good gains and both times when trying to break tackles and strain for extra yardage.
Greenwood took over at the Vilonia 37 after the first fumble and fooled the Eagle defense with a wide receiver pass from Tony Sandiifer that found Harris all alone in the corner of the end zone for a 17-3 lead with 7:39 left. After the second lost fumble, Shook passed 24 yards to Harris on fourth down, then Sandifer scored from the 2 with 5:36 left.
"We have some young kids and that leads to too many mistakes, and gosh doggit, that will kill you," Stanley said. "You can’t make that many mistakes when you play a great team. Our kids are playing hard, and I’m proud of that. They are playing as hard as they can play. I can’t fault them when they make those mistakes and are playing so hard against a great team. They don’t miss practice and they are good kids. I know I just have to hang in there as a coach with these kids."
"We worked every day in practice this week just focusing on stripping the ball," Jones said. "We felt if we gave them a lot of field to drive and didn’t give up big plays, we could get some turnovers if they had to run a lot of plays. The offense they run is high-risk, high-reward and we took advantage when they they made the mistakes."
Vilonia kept the ball almost the entire first quarter on a drive that led to a 36-yard field goal by Nelson that gave the Eagles a 3-0 lead with 1:15 left.
The Eagles drove to the Greenwood 5 in the second quarter. Mitchell scored an apparent touchdown but it was called back on a holding penalty. A procedure penalty set the Eagles back further. Nelson missed a 24-yard field goal attempt.
"We’re in the end zone and we get a penalty," Stanley said. "Our defense played an outstanding game, just outstanding against a high-powered offense. On offense, we’re not concerned about the big play. We want to control the ball and the clock and take whatever is given us. We were doing that until we started making those mistakes."
The Eagles, who have now lost two in a row after winning their first two 5A-West games, host Central Arkansas Christian next week.