Taking on two quality 7A Central teams and a crosstown 5A South rival is a good way to prepare a team for the rigors of 6A football. The Pine Bluff Zebras (2-1) split home games against Cabot and Fort Smith Northside, and they went to Watson Chapel and won by 36 points. Now, the Zebras will open up 6A conference play at home against the Little Rock Hall Warriors (1-2).
Zebras Head Coach Bobby Bolding is pleased with the fact that they at least won one of those games against the 7A opponents, and he thinks they're about where he and his staff foresaw them being prior to the season. Now that they're embarking on conference play they'll only look to build on what they've done thus far.
“We're about where I thought we would be,” Bolding said. “I'm glad to have two wins out of there, splitting with Cabot and Fort Smith Northside. Defensively, we've been playing really well, and offensively we're steadily getting better.”
Defensively, the most the Zebras have given up in a game is 20 points in the opening loss to Cabot. Since then, in their next two games, they've only allowed 14 points total. Senior linebackers Isaiah Singleton and Martavis Thompson have manned the middle, and senior defensive lineman Kevawn Goins and company have posed threats up front. Last week, it was senior defensive back Antonio Snow who picked off Northside's quarterback in the second half to completely swing the momentum.
“They've carried us so far, and we felt like that could be the case,” Bolding said of the defense. “If you can hold a team to 20 points or less in today's game you've got a good chance. We told the guys last week against Northside at halftime if we came out and shut them out we'd win the ball game.”
On offense, sophomore quarterback Tyler Foots has continued to come into his own and gain comfort-ability. The production of the offensive line that blocks for Foots was a huge concern for Bolding weeks ago, but that's not totally the case anymore, as they've shown progression.
“They're definitely getting better,” Bolding said of the offensive line.
Pine Bluff sophomore running back Kerry Hadley has rushed for 191 yards combined in their last two games, and that's exactly what they needed, as they're dealing with injuries. According to Bolding, in 6A football you have to have multiple guys in the backfield who can get the job done.
“You've got to have two or three tailbacks at this level,” Bolding said. “We're getting Hadley ready to go and we're getting another one ready to go along with Moody.”
Their opponent this week, the Hall Warriors, made a coaching change in the off-season as Head Coach Kipchoge Vanhoose starts his tenure. Although they made the coaching change, according to Bolding, they'll run the same schemes as they've ran in the past, with a little more emphasis on passing the ball.
“They're in the spread like they've been and in an odd front on defense like they've been,” Bolding said. “Maybe they're throwing the ball a little more.”
The Warriors opened the season with a win over Little Rock Fair, but they've dropped their last two games against Little Rock Mills and Little Rock McClellan. Last week, McClellan let the Warriors have it as they cruised to a 63-8 win.
Hall will be a huge underdog as they enter into Jordan Stadium, and the Zebras will look to execute their game plan. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.