The Pine Bluff Zebras found themselves on an emotional roller-coaster last week after being down two scores, coming back to take the lead, then losing by a touchdown 30-24 toward the end of the ball game against Searcy.
Tonight at home, the Zebras have a crucial 6A East conference matchup against the Marion Patriots. Pine Bluff and Marion both sit at 2-2 in conference play, and the winner takes sole possession of the fourth spot in the 6A East standings. Due to the fact that only the top four teams get playoff bids, this game could ultimately decide if either the Zebras or Patriots play in the postseason.
Pine Bluff Head Coach Bobby Bolding doesn't like to focus too hard on the playoff race. At this point, he knows that if they win, everything else will sort itself out.
"I really try not to pay too much attention to it," Bolding said. "I'm locked in on us and what we're doing. I know if we keep getting better, we're going to win ball games, and that's what we're locked in on."
Earlier this year, Bolding referenced the fact that they have had 14 new starters in place since the beginning of the season. This week, they'll hope to get senior linebacker Colby Davis back out there, but other than that, all their other injured players look to be out for the duration.
The younger players who have been thrown into the fire are having to grow up on the fly. According to Bolding, they're putting the effort forward, now they just need to become more consistent.
"Colby Davis practiced a little bit," Bolding said. "We're hoping he can go, but everybody else is pretty much done. Young guys have good and bad days. It's just a part of maturing as a person."
After the tough 30-24 loss at Searcy last week, Bolding has been pleased with how his players have bounced back in practice.
"They responded great this week," Bolding said. "Last week, we played hard and with enthusiasm. We got down a couple scores and came back to take the lead, and we held on to the end of the fourth. Now, they realize if they play hard and play with emotion they'll give themselves a chance to win."
After getting behind against Searcy, Bolding decided to go with a different package on offense coming out of halftime. Junior quarterback Shauwn Howell was replaced with Senior Braylon Moody at quarterback as they began to run a wildcat formation, which was productive. It played a part in Pine Bluff mounting a comeback, and it's something that the Zebras have in their arsenal going forward.
"Howell is the starting quarterback now, which package we start with, we don't know yet," Bolding said. "We had to keep things real simple on what we did because we didn't have a whole lot installed. We came out with it in the second half. We knew they would make adjustments, and they did. We've been able to add some more things to it this week."
The Marion Patriots haven't put back-to-back wins together since early September, but they were competitive in both of their losses. One of the two was a 22-20 loss to West Memphis. Bolding respects what Patriots Head Coach Keith Houston has done in his first year at the school.
"They're a good football team," Bolding said. "They have some real skilled guys offensively, and defensively they fly around."
Marion sophomore quarterback Daedrick Cail is coming off of the most proficient game of his career as he completed 13/16 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns against Mountain Home. Cail has a big-play threat in his senior wide-out Joyrion Chase. Chase has recorded 39 catches for 780 yards and eight touchdowns coming into the matchup with the Zebras.
"Their sophomore quarterback will be a dandy," Bolding said.
The Zebras and the Patriots are set for a 7 p.m. kickoff at Jordan Stadium.
White Hall hosting LR Christian
The White Hall Bulldogs have reeled off five straight wins after knocking off Watson Chapel last week in a rivalry game.
White Hall Head Coach Mike Vaughn is well aware that their next three games are against teams with a combined 5A Central record of 10-2, and it'll only get tougher from this point going forward.
The Bulldogs have secured a spot in the 5A playoffs, and now it's all about their seeding. Playing for positioning will start tonight as they welcome in the Little Rock Christian Warriors.
"We know we're in, so now we're playing for seeding every week," Vaughn said. "If you win a game, you move up."
With the strength of their conference schedule coming up, there's not been a noticeable uptick or sense of urgency from the players, according to Vaughn. They're doing what they've done all season long — just playing ball.
"They've treated them all the same way," Vaughn said of the games. "These guys are focused."
On offense, White Hall is averaging 218.7 receiving yards and 244.2 rushing yards per game. With that, the Bulldogs have a highly-balanced offensive attack that has kept defenses guessing.
Senior quarterback Josh Looney completed 13/18 passes for 276 yards and four touchdowns against Watson Chapel. Senior receivers Koby Drake, Baylor Owen and sophomore Kam Robinson all recorded touchdowns through the air.
"Last week, it was one of those nights when all the receivers ran good routes, and Josh had time to throw it," Vaughn said. "When he has the time, he can get it there. It should be exciting to watch going forward."
The White Hall defense has only surrendered 14 points in their past three games, and Vaughn gives the credit to his defensive coaching staff for how they've been preparing the players for Friday nights.
"Coach Wade Reynolds, Coach Cortez Lee and Coach Ryan Bridges have done a great job with them, and they play hard," Vaughn said. "In high school football, if you get nine out of 11 playing hard every snap, you have a chance to be good."
Now, that defense will face one of their toughest challenges yet in trying to slow down Little Rock Christian senior Justice Hill. Hill missed a few games earlier this season, but he played last week and is expected to be full-go against the Bulldogs. Hill is a 2019 University of Arkansas basketball commit, but he has an offer to play football for the Razorbacks as well.
"He'll be back against us, he played last week," Vaughn said of Hill. "He's a great athlete, no doubt about it. You're talking about one of the best in the state, if not the best. He can run and throw, and it's hard to account for."
Hill isn't a one-man band, either. He has talent surrounding him on the line and at the skill positions. Warrior junior running back Kendal Givens was also mentioned as one to watch by Vaughn.
"Their receivers all run well," Vaughn said. "Their running back is about 220, and he can run."
In 5A Central play, the Warriors' defense has held all their opponents to 20 points or less. From watching film, Vaughn sees a unit that's well rounded.
"They're physical up front, and they run well in the secondary," Vaughn said. "That makes you good on defense, and it's going to be a challenge."
The Bulldogs will try to stay atop the 5A Central standings as they host the Little Rock Christian Warriors for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Dollarway hosting Parkers Chapel
The Dollarway Cardinals play host to Parkers Chapel tonight beginning at 7 p.m.
"Parkers Chapel has a real solid team," Dollarway head coach Martese Henry said. "They play together. They have a decent quarterback with some good targets to throw to. They have a solid 3-4 defense, and I just feel like they're a great opponent."
The Dollarway Cardinals have won two of their last three games after starting the season with four straight losses. A week ago, the Cardinals shut out Drew Central 20-0.
Parkers Chapel fell just short at Bearden in week 6 but lost by a 50-10 margin last week to Fordyce.
Henry also talked about his team and their adjustments over the past few weeks.
"We've just focused on being physical," Henry said. "We continue to be physical at practice for it to carry over into the game. I just want our guys to continue to play with passion and continue to play for each other. We had some success last week defensively with our first shutout of the season, and we want to continue to build on that."
Both quarterbacks can make big plays both on the ground and through the air.
Parkers Chapel junior quarterback Caleb Jacobs had more than 350 yards of total offense two weeks ago at Bearden.
Junior quarterback Terrance Brown averages more than five yards per carry and has thrown for more than 100 yards in each of the last three weeks for Dollarway.
Brown threw for a season-high of 125 passing yards last week at Drew Central on just four completions, two of which went for touchdowns.
Watson Chapel hosting LR Fair
The Watson Chapel Wildcats look to end a four-game losing skid tonight for homecoming against the Little Rock Fair Eagles at 7 p.m.
The Wildcats have been outscored 76-16 in the second half of conference play so far this season.
However, head coach Jared Dutton has talked to his players about focusing on playing hard for all four quarters.
"We just have to do a good job of keeping them contain and playing all four quarters," Dutton said. "That's just one thing we haven't done since early in the season. Everyone has to come together. We don't have some depth in some key spots, but we just have to toughen up. However, our kids have never given up. We continue to execute at practice as well as games, and we're working every day."
Junior QB Devin Curry continues as one of the state's top playmakers, passing for 835 yards and 13 touchdowns this fall. He also has rushed for 634 yards and two scores.
The Eagles have lost six straight and have been outscored by conference opponents 195-25 in the last four games.
Dutton hopes that his Wildcats will win homecoming and also finish out the season strong.
"It's homecoming here for the seniors, so we definitely want those guys to finish strong," Dutton said. "I expect a lot of excitement from the fans with us being at home and a lot of energy from our guys to come out and enjoy a homecoming week that we hope to win. We want to come out play all four quarters and leave it on the field."