The question of how much Pine Bluff had improved since a 56-21 Oct. 7 loss to Lake Hamilton was mostly answered with Friday's 23-21 defeat to the same team.

The question of how much Pine Bluff had improved since a 56-21 Oct. 7 loss to Lake Hamilton was mostly answered with Friday’s 23-21 defeat to the same team.

While the Zebras came up just short of pulling the upset against the 6A-South Conference champions, Pine Bluff showed early against the Wolves that this was a different Zebras team.

On the strength of 68 first-half rushing yards from Lemmie Daniels and a stout defensive effort, Pine Bluff seized a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter. At that point, the Zebras controlled the flow of the game and seemed to be primed for the upset.

The Zebras lost their early momentum, mostly on a fluke play in the second quarter. Quarterback Levi Runyan appeared to be bottled up for a sack at midfield, but escaped the rush to throw a bullet to Timmy Fraley. As Fraley closed in on the goal line, he fumbled. But Carter Greathouse recovered the ball in the end zone for the Wolves’ first touchdown, cutting the Zebras’ lead to 14-10.

“You have to give (Runyan) credit,” Pine Bluff coach Bobby Bolding said of the play. “He scrambled around and made a throw in there. … That’s good football on their part.”

Two third-quarter touchdowns — less than three minutes apart — put Pine Bluff in the hole at 23-14 to begin the fourth quarter.

A 91-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Humphrey to Davarious Rice cut the deficit to two with 4:14 left, but that was as close as the Zebras would get. Still, Bolding was proud of his team’s meddle after the game.

“Our kids battled, never quit playing,” Bolding said after the game.

That quote was indicative of the Zebras season, as Pine Bluff rallied from the Oct. 7 drubbing to get to the 6A state semifinal round. With defensive changes, the Zebras held the Wolves to their lowest point total of the year.

But those changes were not enough to knock off Lake Hamilton, winners of their last 10 games (all against 6A-South teams).

Opportunistic Cardinals face toughest challenge

Chalk up another playoff road victory for Dollarway, as the Cardinals came out firing against Gravette on Friday night and advanced with a 20-13 win.

Reached Monday by phone, coach Cortez Lee said his defense’s aggressive style to begin the game keyed the victory.

“We came out aggressive on defense,” Lee said. “We stopped their run and held (running back Darrick Strzelecki) to 69 yards. We played overall good team ball.”

The road to the state championship only gets harder from here.

This week, Dollarway faces the No. 1 ranked team in 4A according to Hootens.com in Pulaski Academy. The Bruins have rolled through opponents this season en route to a 12-0 record, including last week’s 65-13 win against then-second ranked Pottsiville.

For Lee, he knows his team will have to take advantage of any opportunities against Pulaski Academy.

“I think we’ll have to capitalize on opportunities that we get and recover onside kicks,” Lee said. “We have to rally to the ball on the defensive side.”

For onside kicks, Pulaski coach Kevin Kelley is widely known for his affinity to never punt and attempt onside kicks every time. To counter that, Dollarway will spend a lot of time on special teams to get ready for the Bruins.

“We’re most definitely covering onside kicks,” Lee said of his team’s practice plan. “(On Tuesday) we have half a day covering special teams.”

The Cardinals travel to Little Rock for a 7:30 p.m. Friday semifinal game against Pulaski Academy.

Turnovers haunt White Hall

Going back to when White Hall started the season 0-3, the Bulldogs’ biggest problem was coughing up the football.

When White Hall then won their next nine games, the team averaged less than one turnover per game.

But in Friday night’s 47-26 loss to Batesville, five turnovers proved too costly for White Hall to overcome.

“We fumbled a couple times running the ball while fighting for extra yardage,” coach Mike Vaughn said Monday in a phone interview. “Passing, we just had a tipped ball here, a tipped ball there.”

Despite the loss, White Hall finished its season 9-4 and made its first appearance in the state semifinals since 1991. Vaughn said he is beyond words for explaining how proud he is of the team.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am,” Vaughn said. “The coaches and the seniors have been unreal. They never waivered from the beginning. We always thought we were a good football team.”

The Bulldogs proved they were indeed a good team with a 7-0 record to take the 5A-Southeast Conference.