By Conor O'Neill
By Conor O’Neill
OF THE COMMERCIAL STAFF
When Pine Bluff and Lake Hamilton met on Oct. 7 this year, things didn’t exactly go the Zebras’ way. In the first 10 plays from scrimmage, the Wolves had picked off quarterback Jordan Humphrey twice and turned those interceptions into a 14-0 lead.
That started the rout, which ended with a 56-21 score and a Pine Bluff team that needed a few defensive adjustments, according to coach Bobby Bolding.
“After (the first game against) Lake Hamilton, we changed some technique stuff in the secondary, moved some personnel around and changed some technique stuff at linebacker,” Bolding said.
The results are obvious. After giving up 47 points to Texarkana in their next game — one in which Bolding said there were still adjustments being made — Pine Bluff has allowed just 11.8 points per game in four games. In the previous eight games, the Zebras had allowed 36 points per game.
“(Our players) figured out what they needed to do within the scheme and we’ve been playing good defense,” Bolding said. “We’re going to have to play great defense (tonight).”
The transition from good to great will have to be tonight, as the Zebras (8-4) travel to Lake Hamilton (11-1) for a 7:30 p.m. 6A state semifinal contest.
On the line is a trip to Little Rock to play the winner of tonight’s other semifinal game, El Dorado at Jonesboro, for the state championship.
In the first meeting between Pine Bluff and Lake Hamilton, the Wolves first-team offense took the field eight times and scored eight touchdowns. Since then, Bolding said he hasn’t seen many differences in the Lake Hamilton attack.
“They look pretty proficient with what they’re doing,” Bolding said. “They have a good running game, their offensive line is good. They play-action, three-step, sprint out and drop back pass and all of it.
“(Lake Hamilton is) going to make you defend the whole field, they’re going to do it out of a variety of formations, a variety of plays. We just have to be disciplined with our eyes, line up correctly and play football.”
And just as Lake Hamilton coach Jerry Clay said after the first game that he would not be surprised to see Pine Bluff in the playoffs and that it would be a tougher test the second time, Clay reiterated this week that he doesn’t expect another blowout win.
“Our last game (against Pine Bluff) is really not indicative of what they’re capable of doing on defense,” Clay said. “Everything kind of clicked for us in that (first) game. I expect them to give their best effort.”
Pine Bluff’s best effort will have to come against a team that Bolding said not only is well-coached, but has talent at every position.
“There’s a reason that they’re 11-1 right now, and ran through our conference. They’ve got some talented players, on both sides of the ball. And they’ve got them at all positions.”
In last week’s 35-14 win over Searcy, Bolding said it took the Pine Bluff offense a few series to get on track. Once they did, the Zebras rolled up 35 points on the Lions.
The Pine Bluff offense has averaged 36 points per game this year, with 41 points against Van Buren and 35 against Searcy in the playoffs.
Whereas the first meeting between Pine Bluff and Lake Hamilton was at Jordan Stadium, tonight’s game will have the Zebras on the road in Pearcy.
That might not be such a bad thing for the Zebras. Pine Bluff is 6-0 on the road this season, winning games by an average of more than 28 points per game.
For an explanation on the team’s road success, Bolding said he thinks his team takes the mentality of being surrounded and has been able to fight its out hostile environments each time.
“I think it’s just a matter of they know they have to play at a higher level, they’re on the road, they’re already down when they walk in the door, and they’re surrounded,” Bolding said. “‘We’ve got to get back-to-back and we’re going to have to fight our way out of this place.’ That’s kind of the mentality they take.”
That fight starts tonight at 7:30 p.m. in a 6A state semifinal matchup against Lake Hamilton.