With the shooting death of Walter Ashley Jr. over the weekend, tragedy struck the Pine Bluff football team.

With the shooting death of Walter Ashley Jr. over the weekend, tragedy struck the Pine Bluff football team.

Ashley was the father of Zebras standout running back Walter Ashley III, who has more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and 16 touchdowns this season.

Reached Monday by phone, Pine Bluff coach Bobby Bolding said the team is focused on supporting the Ashley family.

“I told him we were here for him and anything we could do, just let us know,” Bolding said, referring to the Zebras team. “We’d do anything we could do to help them. We want to support the Ashley family.”

The Zebras move forward in the 6A state playoffs after a 41-14 win against Van Buren on Friday, in which Ashley racked up 113 rushing yards, 57 receiving yards and 133 return yards and two touchdowns.

Pine Bluff travels to Searcy for a 7:30 p.m. quarterfinals game Friday.

— Conor O’Neill

Dollarway, Stuttgart to renew rivalry early

Dollarway and Stuttgart high schools are separated by 38 miles, yet it’s believed that 23 years have passed since the last time their football teams have played each other.

Cardinals coach Cortez Lee said he never faced Stuttgart while playing for his alma mater from 1989-91. He added that he was told 1988 was the last time the storied programs faced off.

“I cannot imagine being so close in proximity to the school and not playing them at all,” Lee said. “Look at it as the stars have aligned.”

The wait will end Friday night at Stuttgart (10-1) in the second round of the 4A playoffs. The teams were originally set to resume their rivalry next season when the Cards (4-6) join the Ricebirds in the 2-4A Conference.

Part of the reason for Dollarway’s four-game winning streak is sophomore defensive back Josh Liddell’s play this past Friday in a 34-31 win at Ozark. Liddell returned an interception 94 yards and a blocked punt 29 yards in a 2-minute span.

“First, he’s a real good talent,” Lee said. “Second of all, he takes full advantage of his opportunities. The third thing, when you’re blessed with speed, anything can happen. … He’s just a big-play player.”

— I.C. Murrell

Bulldogs vs. Rams, part II

Just as a reminder — Hot Springs Lakeside can win big.

Ten weeks have passed since Lakeside opened the season at home with a 26-3 win over White Hall, but coach Mike Vaughn seemed a little cautious when asked this past Friday night about his thoughts on a rematch with the Rams.

“We’re tickled to be at home,” he said. “It’s going to be fun to play them; they’ve got a great football team. Obviously, they do. The way they handled Alma (on Friday), I hope we can stay on the field with them. They beat us last time pretty good.”

Lakeside (10-1), the 5A-Southwest runner-up, advanced with a 40-14 victory over Alma, while 5A-Southeast champion White Hall (8-3) took care of Blytheville 37-20. The Bulldogs have won eight straight games.

The first half of the previous White Hall-Lakeside meeting was close, with the Rams leading 7-3. But two fumbles in the second half saddled the Bulldogs, and the Rams took off to victory.

“Lakeside’s a great team,” quarterback Nathan Lee said. “We’ve got a chance to redeem ourselves from that first loss. We’ve got to stay focused and win one game at a time.”

— I.C. Murrell

End of the road for Wildcats

The Watson Chapel sideline was packed with students decked in black and gold equipment Friday night, which, according to Watson Chapel coach George Shelton, is a testament to the bright future for the Watson Chapel football program.

“I just feel very blessed to have an opportunity to work with these young men,” said Shelton on Friday after a tough 54-48 loss to Beebe. “We look forward to the future. Certainly, we are disappointed that we weren’t successful tonight, but somebody’s going to win, somebody’s going to lose. On tonight, I guess it was meant for us not to come out on top.

“We only had 16 seniors, and we dressed out 90 kids tonight. We think our program is definitely headed in the right direction.”

Both teams entered the game using a variation of the run-oriented wishbone offense, which resulted in both defenses stacking eight to nine people in the box. Beebe comfortably stayed exclusively with its Dead-T game plan, but Watson Chapel moved to the spread offense after falling behind early, relying predominantly on Eason’s arm. The Wildcats fought hard, but couldn’t overcome the early deficit.

Shelton said he felt like his players left it all out on the field, and has no regrets about their effort in their final performance, but sees the areas that need to be addressed for next season.

“We have had some problems this season against teams that have had a strong running game,” Shelton said. “But we’re very young (and) optimistic about the future. That’s what this is about: having your weaknesses discovered, and hopefully you’ll have an opportunity to improve upon that.”

Only six seniors started for the Wildcats, including quarterback Jerome Eason, running back Willie Sargent, safety Cedric Burnett, and lineman Jackie Harris, all key contributors.

“I thought our seniors did great all year long, for a group that didn’t have a tremendous amount of experience,” Shelton said. “They were great leaders all year long, they did everything we asked them to do, and we’re very proud of them.”

—Brennon Keys