Tigers' time: 4th-quarter TD lifts Green Forest over Berryville
By Scott Loftis
For the first time since 2017, the Green Forest Tigers are the high school football champions of Carroll County.
Sophomore Ryan Bruegel ran for a 3-yard touchdown with 3:22 left in the fourth quarter to lift the Tigers to an 18-12 victory over the Berryville Bobcats on Friday night at Bobcat Stadium.
“It was a huge win for us,” said first-year Green Forest coach Greg Tibbitt, who earned his first coaching victory with the Tigers. “The kids are excited. Any time you get a win, and when it’s against your biggest rival it escalates it even more. So they’re really excited about it.”
Bruegel’s run capped a 12-play, 70-yard drive by the Tigers after Berryville had tied the score on a 1-yard touchdown run by senior Dominic Henry with 8:47 remaining. The Green Forest win broke the Tigers’ two-game losing streak in the series after Berryville won by lopsided scores in 2018 and 2019. Over the past six seasons, the teams have split 3-3.
“Nobody, us or them, wants to lose it,” Berryville coach Doug Shott said. “We felt like our defense played really well most of the night and did what they had to do to get off the field. We just couldn’t get anything going offensively.”
Both teams were missing key personnel because of injuries and COVID-19 concerns. Green Forest’s top running back was quarantined and Berryville was without its top two kickers in addition to having several running backs sidelined by injuries and a shorthanded coaching staff because of COVID-19 issues.
“I’m not making excuses but our quarantine and our injuries really had us limited with what we could do offensively,” Shott said. “The kids played hard. We made mistakes and didn’t get the job done. And hats off to them. They did.”
Berryville had a chance to take its first lead of the night after Henry’s fourth-quarter touchdown, but Green Forest’s Bryan Soto blocked the Bobcats’ extra point attempt.
“We had our chances,” Shott said. “Even through the battles we were going through, we had our chances. We didn’t get it done. … We felt like if we’d have made that extra point on the second score, it might have been different, but hindsight’s 20-20.”
Green Forest’s game-winning drive covered 70 yards, helped along by a pass interference penalty that gave the Tigers a first down at the Berryville 38. From there, senior quarterback Reiley Gordon ran for 10 yards, then found junior receiver Fredy Juarez jr. for a 7-yard gain on fourth-and-3 to keep the drive alive. Two plays later, Gordon threw to Adrian Serna for a 6-yard gain to the Berryville 3 that set up Bruegel’s game-winning score.
“It was our best drive of the year by far,” Tibbitt said. “We ran the ball well. We threw the ball well and caught it. No negative plays. It was just a really good drive for us.”
Berryville’s final possession began with a holding penalty and ended two plays later when Green Forest’s Ben Jones intercepted a pass to give the ball back to the Tigers with 2:17 remaining.
“They came at us pretty good, knowing that we were limited,” Shott said. “It’s not fun when you’ve got to throw and everybody knows it.”
Gordon completed 16 of 28 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown. He ran 13 yards for the Tigers’ first touchdown, giving Green Forest a 6-0 lead with 6:14 left in the first quarter.
Bruegel, one of Green Forest’s top defenders at linebacker, saw his first significant action of the season in the backfield and ran for 22 yards on five carries. Sophomore Izaak Merida, playing tailback for the first time, carried 14 times for 23 yards.
“Izaak Merida stepped up. He’s never played tailback. I didn’t want Bruegel to get a whole lot of carries because he’s so important to us on defense, so we kind of had a little thunder and lightning package with him and Merida in there,” Tibbitt said. “Izaak did well. He didn’t rush for a whole lot of yards but for never playing the position, never turned the ball over. He did an outstanding job for us, too.”
The Tigers’ second touchdown came after they faced third-and-goal from the Berryville 23 late in the second quarter. Gordon threw to sophomore Joel Salgado for a 19-yard gain to the 4, then found Juarez in the corner of the end zone on a fourth-down fade route.
Shott acknowledged that Berryville had trouble covering Green Forest’s bigger receivers.
“Sure,” he said. “Especially when they were out there on an island with our kids. They weren’t going to outrun us, but we did struggle. Our kids tackled them a whole lot of times but them being big out on the edges was going to make it difficult, especially when they just had short yardage to go.”
Still, Berryville didn’t quit. The Bobcats answered on their next possession when Henry got behind the Green Forest defense and Smith found him in stride for a 47-yard touchdown that cut the Tigers’ lead in half at 12-6. Henry ran for 63 yards on 13 carries and caught three passes for 78 yards.
Berryville’s game-tying fourth-quarter drive was highlighted by a conversion on fourth-and-5, with Henry following a block by Smith to pick up the first down.Two plays later, Henry broke free for a 32-yard gain to set up his 1-yard score.
Tibbitt said he wasn’t surprised that the game was so close.
“Those rivalry games, you see it in college and the NFL, at every level,” he said. “You kind of feel like you dominate the game and you look up and it’s 12-12 with six minutes left in the game or whatever. But we felt like we played well in all phases. We took advantage of our size on the perimeter and our defense has played outstanding. Coach (Tyler) Harness has done a great job the past two weeks. Those guys have played with a lot of energy.”
Berryville (0-7, 0-5 4A-1) opted not to participate in the Class 4A playoffs and Shott said the coaching staff and several players were placed on quarantine for at least the third time this season on Monday. The Bobcats had three games canceled because of COVID-19 issues this season.
Green Forest, meanwhile, opted into the playoffs. The Tigers (1-9, 1-6) will play their first Class 4A playoff game on Friday at Bald Knob. Green Forest’s last postseason appearance came in 2014, when the Tigers lost at Harding Academy in Searcy in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs.
“We’re trying to create a playoff culture here, so we wanted to take a chance and see,” Tibbitt said, acknowledging that there was a chance the Tigers could be matched against a top seed in the first round. “We feel it could be a very competitive game. We’re excited about an opportunity. It’s just another week to play, another week to practice, another week for our seniors. It’s just a win-win for us, we felt like.”