With less than four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of the Russell Rivals Bowl opener Friday, Greenwood found itself within 2 yards of a touchdown that would give it the lead. But the Gators were unable to convert and fell 13-9 to Madisonville-North Hopkins at Warren Central.
Greenwood coach Chris Seabolt’s new spread veer offense racked up 157 yards on the ground and helped the Gators battle back from a 13-0 deficit, but the defense was the story for the Gators.
Greenwood allowed just 42 rushing yards to the MNH trio of Ryan Bowman, Ivonta White and Jaron White, who combined for 2,170 yards last year. The Gators also forced three turnovers, but costly penalties and a strong effort from Maroon quarterback T.J. Phaup were too much for Greenwood to overcome.
“I was very pleased with our defense. I thought they did a great job with the exception of just one or two snaps here and there,” Seabolt said. “I was not very pleased with our offense. I felt like we did some good things. There was just a lot of yards left on the field.”
Running back DaMichael Bibb led the Gators with 42 yards on eight rushing attempts, and California transfer quarterback Ryan Hawkins had 34 yards on 11 rushing tries. Will Adams recorded an interception and a fumble recovery.
“Greenwood played great,” MNH coach Brock Shoulders said. “Coach Seabolt, I’m telling you, when we watched them on film, we knew they were better than they were last year. I like what they’re doing offensively. They’re going to eat up more clock, they’re going to get more first downs, and they’re going to keep their defense off the field. ... I was upset that we had some of the mistakes we had, but that can be some of the things Greenwood did.”
“They’ve got some good little quick backs. For them, they just have to keep doing what they’re doing and getting better at it. We knew they were better than last year and we thought we would handle them more.”
Both teams came up empty-handed on their first three drives before Phaup completed a 31-yard pass to Cameron Luster, setting up a 5-yard touchdown run by Ryan Bowman for a 7-0 MNH lead with 8:40 left in the first half.
MNH added another score two possessions later with a three-play, 34-yard drive capped by Phaup’s 5-yard rushing score.
Greenwood answered on the next possession with a 68-yard kickoff return from Bibb, setting up four-play, 42-yard scoring drive. After a Maroon personal foul, the Gators snapped the ball from the North Hopkins 16-yard line and Hawkins pitched it to Noah Pillow, who was in motion. Pillow read his blocks and exploded in the endzone with 1:51 remaining in the first half.
“They put up a tough fight,” said MNH offensive lineman Cullen Reynolds, who’s verbally committed to Western Kentucky University. “They shocked us the first half and third quarter. Then finally our offensive line just finally decided to get it together.”
Greenwood was forced to punt twice and fumbled once in the fourth quarter, but the Gators got the ball back just in time for an attempt at some late-game heroics.
Pillow started the drive by taking the kickoff to the North Hopkins 38-yard line from inside his own 20. First-down runs by Bibb and fullback Brandon Stubblefield put the Gators in scoring position, but Pillow came up 2 yards short on fourth-and-goal on the same play he scored on in the first half.
“I thought we got better as the game went on. I was pleased,” Seabolt said. “Our quarterback busted one or two reads, but overall he did a good job. I just felt like our running backs, our fullbacks’ tracks weren’t real clean. Ultimately that’s what cost us, big plays.”
Russell Rivals Bowl games were the only area games Friday that weren’t pushed back due to heat advisory, and according to Shoulders, both coaches were weary of playing in such temperatures as the teams kicked off about 5:30 p.m.
“I’ll be honest, I’m very disappointed,” Shoulders said. “It was our first time we’ve had any kind of heat like this. In my personal opinion, it was a bad decision. We should have played this game later. Me and coach Seabolt wanted to do that, but I don’t like that and I don’t care who knows it. ... If it would’ve been the other teams worried about that, they would have pushed it back.”
Seabolt added, “(Shoulders) and I are on the exact same page. We talked about it early this morning. I know that, under KHSAA guidelines, everything was fine for us to go at kickoff, but I think you could watch the game and tell, particularly with Madisonville’s kids, that they struggled. They have several kids that play both sides of the ball ... as the game went on you saw their kids start to really cramp up and having heat-related issues. I know that Warren Central’s administration was in a tough spot, so they did the best they could do, and they did a good job because we didn’t have any issues. But if it had been pushed back a little bit, it may have been a little better for both teams.”
Greenwood (0-1) hosts Allen County-Scottsville on Friday.
MNH 0 13 0 0 — 13
GW 0 7 2 0 — 9
MNH - Bowman 5 run (Summers kick), 8:40
MNH - Phaup 5 run (kick failed), 4:35
GW - Pillow 16 run, 1:51
GW – Team safety, :45