TIMES RECORD FILE PHOTO
Greenwood running back Hoyt Smith is brought down inside the 10-yard line on Sept. 21, 2012, against Northside at Smith-Robinson Stadium in Greenwood.
Jamie Mitchell • Times Record
Greenwood running back Hoyt Smith is brought down inside the 10-yard line on Friday, Sept. 21, 2012, against Northside at Smith-Robinson Stadium in Greenwood.
Greenwood is hoping to extend its 42-game winning streak with a win against Northside tonight.
The Grizzlies are trying to a snap a five-game winless stretch.
The wildest coincidence may be that about the time the Bulldogs began their perfect run was the same time Northside began to struggle.
There isn’t a lot of palpable tension ahead of both teams’ 7A/6A-Central opener at Mayo-Thompson Stadium tonight. It’s kind of odd, actually. Greenwood doesn’t talk much about the country’s fourth-longest streak no matter the opponent and Northside isn’t seeking to play spoiler so much as start their hopeful run back to the postseason.
If you didn’t know the Bulldogs were on such an impressive run, you’d have to drag it out of either coach this week.
“I’m sure you can’t get around the winning streak and all that, but we’ve not talked about it a whole lot,” Northside coach Mike Falleur said.
The first-year coach is too busy getting his house in order. A gut-punch of a nonconference slate could leave even the most resolute reeling. A final seconds tie. A seven-fumble game. A losing-margin safety in the final minute.
Few teams have endured the same run of hard luck as the Grizzlies this season. They may be lacking a win, but through the same three nonconference opponents last year, Northside lost by an average score of 53-23. This year it’s 33-27.
“They’re disappointed they’ve not gotten the results any of us wanted,” Falleur said. “They’re down in the mouth a little bit but they know we’re close.”
Down the road 20 miles, “close” is known only one way. As in, “No one has come close to beating Greenwood.”
It is a bit of an overstatement. But not by much. The Bulldogs have had a few last-minute gasps the last couple years, but since the streak began in 2010, only five times has an opponent come within seven points of winning.
Combine the loss of 13 starters from last year and a tougher road schedule the second year in the Central and there is a dash of reason to believe this might be the year it is snapped. Road trips to upper-tier conference regulars Southside and Conway loom later this season.
It’s not uncommon territory. Greenwood was supposed to lose several times before. That’s the thing about winning streaks, especially ones as long as the Bulldogs’ — here and there, no matter how few or how many teams, someone should have beaten them.
Yet no one has.
“I think it has a lot to do with the system that we’re a part of,” Greenwood coach Rick Jones said. “I’m talking about the Greenwood school system. They want to be the best academic program. Best football program. Best at every sport. Best at everything. So they have that mentality going in.”
Heightened expectations are one thing. Having the talent to come through on those are another. The Bulldogs have that, too. It’s almost a plug-and-play system.
From Daniel Stegall, who opted for pro baseball instead of the University of Miami football program, to Tyler Wilson and Drew Morgan and now Jabe Burgess, Greenwood churns out big-time athletes.
Toss in a system that allows Jones to get hands-on experience with future Bulldogs from the third grade and the formula for success is simple.
Burgess isn’t totally healthy following a broken bone in his foot during the summer, but he made a surprise return to action in Week 2. The University of Tulsa commitment has plenty of time to run or throw thanks to a stout offensive line led by Korban Waldemar.
“He played for us as a freshman after his junior high season was over,” Jones said. “He’s a guy that goes hard every day. He’s all out all the time.”
The formerly troubled Northside defense has been light years better than in recent seasons. The unit has allowed its offense to outgain opponents in each of the first three weeks. And the high-octane offense of yesteryear isn’t totally gone, either. Junior running back Justin Curry has eclipsed 100 yards in two of his first three games.
But opening conference play against the league favorite is tough business for a team that could really use a win to instill some confidence.
“I want them to learn from the things that cost us,” Falleur said. “But at the same time, they’re done. They’re over. These are the ones that matter. You win this one and you start yourself in the right direction to make the playoffs.”