Greenwood completed one of its best regular seasons in school history Friday by stopping a six-game slide against one of its county rivals.
The Gators rushed for 283 yards and their defense held strong late in a 14-6 road win against Warren Central at Joe Hood Field.
GHS is now 8-2, tying a mark for most regular-season wins in program history. The Gators will host Graves County next week in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.
Greenwood’s victory Friday was also just its fourth-ever against the Dragons, a former district opponent for the Gators. Central had won the last six meetings and now leads the series between the two schools that dates to 1991, 19-4.
“Not very many Greenwood teams have beat Central,” Gators coach Chris Seabolt said. “... And we tied the regular season record with eight wins.
“I know there are a lot of programs in the area that might look at those two things and think, ‘That’s not that big of a deal.’ But for Greenwood High School it is. I think that our kids are moving in the right direction, our program is moving in the right direction and I’m just very pleased and excited for our seniors.”
Meanwhile, the Dragons finish the regular season 3-7 and with a 1-3 mark against the four other in-town schools – Bowling Green, Greenwood, South Warren and Warren East.
Their loss locked them into the No. 4 playoff seed in Class 4A, District 2. That sets Warren Central up for a first-round date next week at Hopkinsville, ranked No. 4 in the latest 4A Associated Press poll.
Coach Clay Stephens’ Dragons lost Friday despite holding Gators quarterback Jackson Adams to a relatively modest 76 yards on 25 carries and recovering four GHS fumbles.
“We knew that every chance we got we had to take advantage of it and we just didn’t,” Stephens said “We had a short field a few times and you’ve got to make a play. You’ve got to find a way to get it done.”
WCHS’ best opportunity came with 3:52 left in the game after senior Dragon linebacker Payton Donisi recovered Adams’ third fumble at the Greenwood 9-yard line.
Warren Central trailed 14-6 and was nine yards from a touchdown that would allow the Dragons to attempt to tie the game on a 2-point conversion.
A false start moved the ball back to the 14. Senior quarterback Chance Shanklin ran 3 yards to the 11 on first-and-goal.
Senior running back Damani Walker ran 4 yards down to the Gator 7-yard line. On third-and-goal, Shanklin threw incomplete to the end zone, setting up fourth-and-goal with 7 yards to go.
Warren Central called a fade to the back corner, but the GHS secondary read it well and blanketed the receivers. Shanklin’s pass sailed out of the back of the end zone and the Gators forced a turnover on downs with 2:30 left in the game.
“We didn’t want to let ourselves down so we kept pushing each other, talking to each other and motivating,” Greenwood junior safety Malcolm Johnson said. “We stopped them.”
On the ensuing series, Johnson ran 61 yards on a second-and-14 from the shadow of the Gators’ own end zone, and GHS ran out the clock from there.
“The seniors wanted to go 8-2 and we just went out and got it,” Johnson said.
Johnson is known for his defense but came up big offensively Friday. He scored the game’s first touchdown on a 15-yard toss on Greenwood’s first series.
Tanner South’s extra point made the GHS lead 7-0 with 7:43 left in the first quarter.
Then the fumbling woes began for both teams. By the end of the first half, the Gators and Dragons had combined for five fumbles.
But the Greenwood defense picked up the slack all night and kept Warren Central off the board the first two quarters.
“Defensively, I can’t think of a better performance that we’ve had because Central is a quality opponent with quality athletes, and we put our kids’ backs against the wall all night and they responded,” Seabolt said. “I was just tickled to death with how they played.”
Greenwood also scored on its first drive of the second half. This time Adams capped an 11-play series with a 20-yard TD scamper. South’s extra point made it 14-0 with 4:46 left in the third quarter.
Central got the ball back later in the quarter after a Noah Pillow fumble for the Gators.
Shanklin and receiver Tristen Murray connected on a 24-yard screen pass for Warren Central’s only TD of the night, making the score 14-6.
The Dragons got three more possessions after that but had to punt twice and then had the final fourth down conversion attempt that didn’t work.
Greenwood outgained Warren Central 302-276. Johnson ran for 87 yards and a score on five carries for the Gators.
Shanklin threw for 121 passing yards for the Dragons.
One storyline was a strong game from GHS fullback Xezayier Snorton, who finished with 64 yards on 11 carries.
He was able to play Friday after the KHSAA overturned his ejection late Thursday afternoon from the Gators’ loss last week against Bowling Green, saying Snorton didn’t throw the punch for which officials disqualified him.
“I came out ready,” Snorton said. “I was excited, very motivated.”
His performance helped Greenwood finish 8-2 and take some momentum into a playoff showdown with Graves County next week at Gators Stadium.
Snorton “kept practicing, kept thinking he was going to play and he did,” Johnson said. “Thank God on that one.”
GHS 7 0 7 0 — 14
WCHS 0 0 6 0 — 6
GHS – Johnson 15 run (South kick), 7:43
GHS – Adams 20 run (South kick), 4:46
WCHS – Shanklin 24 pass to Murray (kick failed), 2:09