Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series about the top 10 local news stories from 2017, as chosen by the Commercial staff.
The Pine Bluff Zebras have appeared in four out of the last five 6A state championship games under the tutelage of Head Coach Bobby Bolding. This season, after dropping their opener to Cabot 20-12, the Zebras (11-2, 7-0) put together a nine-game regular season win streak to earn a 6A East Conference Championship.
Surprisingly, the Zebras were completely handled by Greenwood in the 6A state championship that ended 52-14. However, that one loss doesn’t define the Zebras, and it doesn’t tell their story. Prior to the season, during fall camp, Bolding and the Zebras had to work through a quarterback battle, implement a new offensive line, deal with key injuries and get in condition for a grueling season.
Bolding’s key to success for this team was laid out from the start: It was that they must get production from the big guys up front on the offensive line. Also, the Zebras returned key starters on a defense — players Bolding expected to be accountable leaders.
The offensive line was able to find their footing throughout the season, as sophomore quarterback Tyler Foots completed 108/184 passes for 1,857 yards, 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Also as the team‘s leading rusher, Foots nearly broke the 1,000-yard rushing mark, falling just short with 943 for 12 touchdowns on 184 carries.
The Zebra offense put up 347 yards per game, and it featured skill position players such as Jyrimee Thompson, Braylon Moody, Diaundre Ellison, Kerry Hadley, Rod Stinson Jr. and Kylen Williams.
On defense, the Zebras were led by a duo of linebackers in Isiah Singleton and Martavis Thompson. In the secondary, the Zebras were loaded with experience with seniors Antonio Snow and Wesley Hunt leading the way.
Up front, guys like K. Williams, Cameron Crane, Kevawn Goins and Niko Thruman were hard for other teams to deal with week in and week out.
In the playoffs, Pine Bluff took down the 2016 6A state champion Russellville Cyclones 40-21. In the semi-finals, the Zebras had to beat Searcy for a second time in one season, but they got the job done in a 34-14 final.
After the upsetting loss to Greenwood in the 6A state finals, Bolding talked about how they struggled to block on offense, had miscues on defense, turnovers and just how Greenwood simply executed better.
The Zebras won’t rest on their laurels, and they’ll be right back at it starting this off-season after the Christmas break.