By Conor O'Neill
By Conor O’Neill
OF THE COMMERCIAL STAFF
PEARCY — On a night when the Pine Bluff defense held Lake Hamilton to its lowest point total of the year, the Zebras offense just couldn’t find its rhythm in a 23-21 loss Friday night.
The Zebras end their season at 8-5, dropping out of the 6A state semifinal round. Lake Hamilton moves forward to a championship matchup with El Dorado next week in Little Rock.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Lake Hamilton coach Jerry Clay said after the game. “Pine Bluff fought hard, we fought hard and had to scratch out a victory.”
After taking a 14-0 lead with 11 minutes and 30 seconds left in the second quarter, the Zebras failed to score until there was 4:14 left in the game. By then, Pine Bluff’s early 14-0 advantage had turned into a 23-14 deficit.
A 91-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Humphrey to Davarious Rice cut the Wolves’ lead to two points, but that was as close as it would get. Pine Bluff got the ball back with 1:48 to play at its own 10-yard line, but failed to pick up a first down and turned the ball over on downs, allowing Lake Hamilton to run out the remaining seconds.
“Our kids battled, never quit playing,” Zebras coach Bobby Bolding said. “Lake Hamilton’s (players) didn’t either. It was a typical 6A-South game. We just came out on the short end of the stick.”
Bolding said after the game that he thought the problem for Pine Bluff’s usually-efficient rushing attack was a lack of rhythm.
“We just couldn’t get in a rhythm,” Bolding said. “It would be a combination of us doing something and (Lake Hamilton) playing. We never could get consistency.”
Pine Bluff outgained Lake Hamilton 286-255 and was able to hold senior quarterback Levi Runyan to a 6-of-15 completion rate, as he threw for just 101 yards.
“I thought we played well enough defensively to win the ballgame,” Bolding said. “Neither offense could get clicking, and they scored enough to win the ballgame.”
Senior fullback Lemmie Daniels carried most of the load for the Zebras offense, rushing for 132 yards on 17 carries. The other three Pine Bluff players who carried the ball, Humphrey, Jalen Dabner and Walter Ashley, combined for 25 carries and just 53 yards.
Ashley was limited not only on offense, where he had just 10 yards, but also in special teams. The junior, who has averaged more than 30 yards per punt return, was never able to get loose in the return game and the Zebras fell victim to Runyan’s proficiency in the punting game.
“We won with the kicking game and defense,” Clay said. “We made a few little (defensive) adjustments at halftime. We did a better job obviously.”
The first time Pine Bluff and Lake Hamilton played this year, the Wolves scored touchdowns on their first eight possessions. Friday night was a different story in each aspect, with the Zebras defense standing out.
Lake Hamilton did not pick up a first down on its first two possessions. The next two possessions ended in interceptions, with Pine Bluff converting the turnovers into a 14-0 lead by the time there was 11:31 left in the second quarter. Rakeem Leverett and Rice made the interceptions.
The only touchdown Pine Bluff allowed in the first half came on a fumble recovery in the end zone. After Runyan appeared to be bottled up behind the line, he completed a pass to Timmy Fraley for a 50-yard gain. Fraley fumbled before crossing the goal line, but Carter Greathouse recovered in the end zone.
Pine Bluff limited Lake Hamilton to 119 yards in the first half, but was limited to 100 yards of its own offense. All of the Zebras’ yards in the first half came on the ground, as Pine Bluff did not attempt a first-half pass.
Daniels was nearly unstoppable in the first half, carrying nine times for 68 yards and one touchdown. Jordan Humphrey added the other Zebras touchdown in the first half.
The Zebras took the first possession of the second half into Wolves’ territory but stalled on a fourth down to end the drive. Lake Hamilton took over with a touchdown drive, taking the lead for the first time in the game.
On a 54-yard touchdown run by Essner with 1:18 left in the third quarter, Lake Hamilton took a 23-14 lead.
The teams traded possessions before Humphrey’s touchdown pass to Rice in the fourth quarter, but the deficit proved to be too much for the Zebras to overcome.
“We came a long ways from the last time we played them,” Bolding said, in reference to the Wolves’ 56-21 win in the first matchup of the teams this season.