Zebras seek home victory over Rams

Pine Bluff quarterback Landon Holcomb carries the football during a Nov. 3 football game. (Special to the Commercial/William Harvey)

Pine Bluff remains at home for the third-straight week as it continues its playoff journey into the second round.

The Zebras host Hot Springs Lakeside at Jordan Stadium at 7 p.m. tonight.

Pine Bluff (9-2), the 5A Central champion, defeated Nettleton 41-21 at home in the first round. This will be the first time the Zebras have played in the second round since 2019.

Lakeside (8-3), the runner-up in 5A South, topped Harrison 59-42 at home and will now make its first road trip of the postseason.

With the Zebras at home this week, winning a conference championship has now brought Pine Bluff two extra home games this season, and potentially a third if the Zebras advance to the state semifinals. With a win, the Zebras would either host Shiloh Christian or travel to Valley View.

Pine Bluff coach Micheal Williams said getting to host extra home games is huge because it brings in extra revenue the Zebras can then spend to help the program.

"We do a lot of things around here, such as feed our guys pregame meals," Williams said. "We feed them team dinner on Thursdays. We want to get new uniforms at least once every other year. We want to be able to have new equipment, new gloves, stuff like that. It's a great opportunity for us to be able to get that extra revenue because of that."

The Zebras have boasted a solid defense all season, but the offense has had its ups and downs. After averaging 45.3 points through its first four games against Arkansas opponents, Pine Bluff finished the regular season averaging just 21.4 in its final five games.

The offense stepped up in the first round, returning to its September form. The Zebras rushed for 215 yards last week, led by D'Juan Hayes with 151 yards and two touchdowns. Williams said the offense has played well even in the lower-scoring games, but mistakes had been costing the Zebras points.

"We actually probably had about three touchdowns called back about every single game," Williams said. "So, our offense actually still never stopped being explosive. We just didn't make as many mistakes this time."

If Pine Bluff can keep up that momentum this week, the Zebras should be able to score against a Lakeside defense allowing 30.3 points per game.

The Rams' offense can score, too. Senior quarterback Jacob Hermosillo has thrown for 2,699 yards and 25 touchdowns this season, though he has thrown 11 interceptions. Junior running back Grady Ohman has rushed for 863 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Outside of a 42-7 loss to Little Rock Parkview, the Rams have regularly scored in the 30s and 40s this season, and their offense should be a good test for Pine Bluff's great defense.

Williams said the Zebras need to be aggressive.

"I think if we come down and play aggressive and we hit hard, I think their offense will pretty much lay down," Williams said. "Parkview hit them pretty hard early on, and they shut it down... I think [we] should be able to do the same thing."

The Zebras are holding opponents to 14.5 points per game in regulation this season.