GREENBRIER – In one of the biggest rivalries in Arkansas high school football, the Vilonia Eagles caught their rivals playing their best football of the season and as result missed the playoffs by a single game.
The Panthers 46-18 win officially eliminated Vilonia from postseason play while also securing the third seed in the conference behind Harrison and Morrilton.
Greenbrier (7-3, 5-2 5A West) will face Little Rock Christian in the opening round of the 5A playoffs in a rematch from earlier in the season.
Panthers tailback Peyton Long rushed for 128 yards on 21 carries for the Panthers who scored on their first possession of the contest as senior quarterback Andrew Johnson scampered in from eight yards out, opening the scoring for Greenbrier.
On their next possession, Greenbrier used a short 5-yard run from Logan King, extending their lead to 14-0 and then, added a safety when a high snap on a punt eluded punter Jordan Britton and wound up out of the end zone.
The Panthers weren't done scoring in the first half as Johnson found a streaking Long down the middle of the Vilonia defense.
Long outran two defenders for a 58-yard touchdown play that essentially tucked the game away for Greenbrier.
“I really thought that we showed we were ready to play as we have been the last three weeks,” Greenbrier head coach Randy Tribble said. “I think we are playing our best football now, we are running the ball well and helps set up the rest of our offense. I was pleased at how well we executed on offense and how we got stops on defense. Coach Langrell was a big part of getting this program turned around before he left and I am sure he will do a great job at Vilonia.”
Senior back Draven Smith, who rushed for 91 tough yards on 13 attempts got the Eagles on the board late in the first half with a 6-yard run, helping Vilonia close within 23-6 cashing in the only miscue of the contest for Greenbrier – a muffed punt that was recovered by Todd Gibson.
But, back came the Panthers as junior receiver Talon Moore caught a slant pass from Johnson and rambled 56 yards for another score, increasing the Greenbrier advantage to 29-6.
“We are always happy when we beat Vilonia because there are always back and forth between us and them,” Long said. “We came out and did what we were supposed to do. We hit them hard and they don’t like to be hit so we did our job.”
Greenbrier’s defense slowed down an Eagles offense that had been explosive over the last few weeks in wins over Farmington and Clarksville.
The Eagles (4-6, 3-4 5A West) will now look towards next season but have made huge strides under the direction in Langrell's first campaign.
“Over the last four games, I thought we continued to get better and better and our seniors totally bought in to what we were doing,” Langrell said. “But this was a big rivalry game for us and Greenbrier has the mojo right now. They are very well coached and I hope to someday get this program to that point.”
Greenbrier added a touchdown down late in the third quarter as Trey Havins bullied in for four yards out to give the Panthers a 36-6 advantage.
After Luke Berry's 11-yard touchdown run for Vilonia early in the fourth quarter, Johnson connected with Ryan Barnard, who made a leaping catch for the final score of the contest from 15 yards out.
The Panthers now turn their attention to a Little Rock Christian squad who beat them soundly without four starters in the second week in the season – including Johnson, who missed the game with an injury.
Moore is hoping for a different outcome for the Panthers in the opening week of the postseason.
“We are finally starting to get it together and focusing on our game plan,” Moore said. “ I think we can give them a good game this time around if we play hard and do all the little things right.”
The winner of the Greenbrier-Little Rock Christian will play the winner of Arkansas-Nettleton in the second round on Nov. 16.