The Pine Bluff Zebras have struggled on making the last drive count throughout the season, falling to teams such as Searcy, Marion and West Memphis.
However, they are known for the way they play in the month of November, and with their season on the line, Pine Bluff fought the adversity and defeated the El Dorado Wildcats in the first round of the 6A state playoffs on Friday night 21-15.
Senior Berkarion Black’s 19-yard touchdown reception with 1:53 left to play gave the Zebras the lead, and an interception on the first play of the Wildcats' next drive sealed a win for the Zebras.
Head coach Bobby Bolding was happy with the way that Black stepped up when it mattered most.
“He had a great game, and he’s played lights out all year,” Bolding said. “He’s a baller now. When the lights come on, he’s going to play. He had a great game on both sides of the ball, and I really can’t say enough good things about him. The best thing about him is that he’s so easy to coach because he works so hard. When he makes a mistake, he takes coaching, and he doesn’t make a mistake over and over.”
After missing several scoring opportunities in the first half, the Zebras took a 7-0 lead at halftime after they finished off a 91-yard drive with Shauwn Howell’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Daedrian White with 18 seconds left in the half.
In the first half, the Zebras' defense did not allow a first down, holding the Wildcats to a negative 34 yards of offense.
The strong defense continued for Pine Bluff in the third quarter as senior linebacker Colby Davis scooped up a fumble and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown, giving the Z's a 13-0 lead with 10:58 left in the third.
“We had some seniors that played well like Black, White and Davis,” Bolding said. “I feel like Jamal Foote played a great game on the defensive side, and one kid who has really played some good football is Dauzhu Thomas. He has been balling out the last month we’ve been playing. Malcom Howard has played well at center, and I’ve been very pleased with that. However, we have some seniors who haven’t played well. We need to put them all together because from here on out, all those seniors have to step up and execute at a high level."
An El Dorado punt in the third quarter landed on the 1 yard line to set up the Zebra offense, but on the next play, the Zebras couldn’t get the ball out of the end zone, and El Dorado recorded a safety to get on the board 13-2 with 5:50 left in the third quarter.
El Dorado took control around the 40 yard line on the ensuing kickoff. Keonte Larry rushed for a 31 yards to the 9 yard line, which allowed Jarmel Love to later score from a yard out to cut the El Dorado deficit to 13-9.
Neither team could get anything going on the next few possession, but momentum seemed to shift midway through the fourth quarter. On third and 7 for the Zebras, Howell was sacked and fumbled, which was recovered by El Dorado at the 5 yard line.
Love took the direct snap and bounced outside for a touchdown that gave the Wildcats a 15-13 advantage with 3:43 left in the game.
Starting from the 19 yard line, the Zebras put together a 12-play drive, including a pair of conversions on fourth down. On fourth and 2, Braylon Moody ran for 13 yards before Howell hit Kentrell Murry for 32 yards to the 24 yard line.
A few plays later, Howell threw a dart to Black, who snagged it in the back of the end zone. Howell hit Isiah Mays for the 2-point conversion and a 21-15 lead with 1:53 left to play.
On the ensuing drive for El Dorado, Black picked off a pass that sealed the win for Pine Bluff.
Bolding talked about the Pine Bluff go-ahead drive and his thoughts going into it.
“Honestly, the first thing that went through my mind was ‘There’s no way we’re going to drive the ball the length of the field in three minutes and score to win the game’ because we’re not that kind of offense this year,” he said.
“We executed two fourth-down plays during the drive, which were big, and Black later with the big catch. A lot of that just goes back to how hard our kids play. They make so many mistakes, and it’s frustrating at times as a coach, but they play so hard.”
Pine Bluff managed 135 yards on the ground and completed 16-of-27 passes for 220 yards. Black had seven receptions for 108 yards and the touchdown. El Dorado finished with 123 yards in total offense, including a net of just 31 yards on the ground. That included 69 yards in losses.
Pine Bluff plays West Memphis in the second round of the playoffs on Friday night.