Spectacular Start: Soto scores 4 TDs, Tigers top Pirates
By Scott Loftis
It’s a whole new season for the Green Forest Tigers.
After struggling to a 1-9 finish in 2018, the Tigers issued a strong opening statement to the 2019 season last Friday with a dominating 39-12 road victory over Yellville-Summit.
“We played well,” said Green Forest coach Bobby Bishop. “I was very pleased. It was the best opening-game performance in the five years I’ve been here at Green Forest. We played a really sound game. We didn’t hurt ourselves. We didn’t have any turnovers and we got a couple of takeaways. And we only had two penalties for 10 yards.”
Coming into the season, Bishop noted that more than half the players on the Green Forest roster are sophomores. But that isn’t necessarily a weakness, as Bryan Soto demonstrated against Yellville-Summit.
In his high school debut for the Tigers, Soto rushed for 135 yards and four touchdowns on 18 carries. He also caught two passes, made nine tackles, intercepted a pass, ran for a two-point conversion and kicked two extra points and a field goal.
“Soto had a great football game,” Bishop said. “We know what Bryan is capable of. But it wasn’t just Soto. We had a lot of kids play well. I think it should give them some confidence.”
Green Forest wasted no time in establishing its running game. After recovering an onside kick attempt by the Panthers, the Tigers drove 47 yards for a touchdown on their opening possession. An offsides penalty against Yellville-Summit gave Green Forest a first down at the 21. Three plays later, junior quarterback Reiley Gordon gave the ball to sophomore tailback Barrett Phillips on a delayed handoff on fourth-and-6 from the 17. Phillips ran for nine yards and a first down. After another offsides penalty moved the ball to the 4, Soto scored on the next play. Soto added the extra point to make it 7-0 with 6:36 left in the quarter.
Phillips finished with 69 yards rushing on 16 carries. Gordon ran for 24 yards and a touchdown and made eight tackles, all unassisted.
After a Panthers punt, Green Forest drove from its own 39 to the Yellville-Summit 10. Phillips had a 9-yard run, followed by a 21-yard gain by Soto. After the drive stalled, Soto kicked a 26-yard field goal for a 10-0 Green Forest lead with 1:41 remaining in the quarter.
Yellville-Summit responded with a 47-yard touchdown pass from Eli Cagle to Sam Robinson to cut the lead to 10-6. A two-point conversion attempt failed.
Green Forest answered with a 1-yard touchdown run by Gordon, set up by a 20-yard run from Phillips. The Tigers lined up to kick the extra point but after a penalty against the Pirates, Soto ran for a two-point conversion and an 18-6 lead with 3:31 remaining in the second quarter.
Once again, Yellville-Summit answered with a long touchdown pass from Cagle to Robinson. This one covered 76 yards to cut Green Forest’s lead at halftime to 18-12.
The second half, however, was all Green Forest.
On Yellville-Summit’s first possession, the Panthers completed a pass but the receiver fumbled and junior linebacker Adrian Serna recovered for the Tigers at the Green Forest 39. Serna finished with nine tackles.
On the Tigers’ first play after the turnover, Soto broke free down the sideline and raced to the Yellville-Summit 6 on a 55-yard run. Three plays later, he slammed into the end zone from a yard out on fourth down. Gordon kept the ball for a two-point conversion, extending the Green Forest lead to 26-12.
Green Forest stopped Yellville-Summit on fourth down on the Panthers’ next possession, taking over at the Yellville-Summit 39. After two more offsides penalties against the Panthers, Soto scored on a 6-yard run. He kicked the extra point to make it 33-12 with 2:44 left in the third quarter.
Soto set up the Tigers’ final score when he intercepted a pass and returned it 15 yards to the Yellville-Summit 40. After Gordon ran for a first down on a fourth-down play inside the 15, Soto capped his big night with a 10-yard TD run at the 5:24 mark.
Bishop said the Tigers were far from perfect but he appreciated their effort.
“We see a lot of room for improvement, but our kids came to play,” he said. “My confidence in our kids has really grown over the past couple of weeks.”
Green Forest will host Commerce, Okla., on Friday night. Kickoff time is 7 p.m.