FORT SMITH — Once the defense settled down, Pine Bluff was able to pull away from Fort Smith Northside in the second half.

FORT SMITH — Once the defense settled down, Pine Bluff was able to pull away from Fort Smith Northside in the second half.

After a first half that saw nearly 500 yards of offense by the teams, the Zebras shut down the Grizzlies in the final two quarters to take a 53-27 season-opening win Friday at Mayo-Thompson Stadium.

It was 27-21 Zebras after one quarter, and all Northside could muster after that was a second-quarter touchdown.

The Grizzlies had no answer for Pine Bluff running back Walter Ashley, who was unstoppable. The senior had 491 all-purpose yards and scored four touchdowns against a Northside defense that played as many as nine sophomores.

“You cannot simulate (Ashley) in practice. He is a player,” said Northside coach Darrell Henry. “I really feel good about the young kids. But when you play a team like Pine Bluff and you are this young, it is going to be an eye-opener.”

Ashley rushed for 115 yards, had 154 receiving yards and 222 return yards.

“Ashley is a heck of a football player. I am glad he’s on my team,” Zebra coach Bobby Bolding said.

In a wild shootout of a first quarter, the teams combined for 338 yards and seven touchdowns.

After that, the defenses settled down for the rest of the half, allowing each offense one touchdown.

Gray Stanton, in his first start as Northside quarterback, was 12-of-14 passing in the first half for 189 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

The second half, though, was another matter as Pine Bluff made some defensive adjustments and shut down the Northside offense. The Grizzlies had 288 yards in the first half, but just 98 yards and three first downs in the last two quarters. Stanton finished the game 19-of-30 passing for 243 yards.

“I did not think we played well in the first half and Northside did on offense,” Bolding said. “Give them credit. They executed in the first half and we didn’t. We were undisciplined with our eyes in the first half. We were not reading our keys on defense and Northside exploited it.”

Henry said after the first quarter, the Grizzly defense settled down but was not able to stop Pine Bluff late in the second half.

“In the first quarter, the speed of the game was a lot faster than we have seen. But we adjusted to it and I was proud of that,” Henry said. “Offensively, Pine Bluff are big, strong guys. We knew what we were coming into. But you cannot prepare for them until you see them. We played hard. It is a learning thing.”

After stopping Northside on consecutive possessions to start the second half, Pine Bluff got back to a two-score edge thanks to a 72-yard, five-play drive. Reserve back Kelvin Sergeant went the final 2 yards and it was 40-27 Zebras with 4:16 left in the quarter.

Quarterback Rickey Clements, playing his first game since ninth grade, put the game away with a 62-yard scoring pass to Ashley with 10 minutes left for a 47-21 lead. Clements finished 9-of-10 passing for 251 with two touchdowns.

“Clements was good tonight,” Bolding added. “He needed to be a bit more patient in the rush, but I was pleased with him. We spread the ball around tonight.”