Special to The Commercial/William Harvey
Bobby Bolding has orchestrated a 2-0 start for his Pine Bluff Zebras.
When North Little Rock and Pine Bluff meet up at 7 p.m. today, it will be like a family gathering for the two teams.
Sometimes families have an all-out fight, though.
Pine Bluff coach Bobby Bolding’s little brother, Brad, is the head coach at North Little Rock, but those two are not the only ones who are close on the two teams.
“We do a lot of team camps with them throughout the summer, so our kids know each other and are real friendly with each other,” he said. “They are probably Facebooking each other and stuff, but all of those friendships will be put on hold for a couple hours (tonight).”
The two teams had six team camps together this summer, according to Brad Bolding, so there is a lot of familiarity with the two teams.
“We have a lot of respect for them and they are going to be fast and physical,” he said. “We know they have a very good football team and will be well coached.”
Both teams are considered two of the top teams in their classes. North Little Rock (1-1) is ranked No. 3 by Hootens.com in Class 7A, and Pine Bluff is No. 2 in Class 6A.
Bobby has the upper hand on his little brother since he won the two previous meetings. But he said he has nothing to do with the wins over his brother.
“All we are going to be doing is standing on the sidelines,” he said. “The players are going to decide the game.”
Both teams have plenty of quality players to make it an entertaining football game. Instead of Bolding vs. Bolding, the game’s focus should be on the two running backs — Pine Bluff’s Walter Ashley and North Little Rock’s Altee Tenpenny.
Ashley rushed for 76 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries and hauled in an 18-yard reception in last week’s 48-12 win over Watson Chapel. He did not play in the second half. In the opening win over Fort Smith Northside, he had 491 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns and last year he had 2,100 all-purpose yards.
Tenpenny, who is a four-star recruit according to ESPN.com, was held to 85 yards in last week’s 30-14 loss to Longview (Texas). He rushed for 76 yards and two touchdowns in the first half of a 42-7 win over Lake Hamilton and is verbally committed to Alabama already.
“They have two differentiating styles, but they are both really good high school football players,” Bobby Bolding said. “Walter’s touches come in a lot of different ways and his shake-and-bake makes someone miss.
“Altee is a different kind of running back. He’s bigger, more physical, a downhill runner and you have to get a lot of hats on him.”
Tenpenny runs a 4.3-second 40-yard dash, but Bobby Bolding is hoping the best way to contain Tenpenny is to get him to run parallel with the line of scrimmage.
“We’ve got to force him to run sideways and that’s a scary thing to do since he runs so fast and you are afraid he is going to outrun everyone,” he said. “But we have to force him to run sideways and not get his shoulders square with the line of scrimmage and come up barreling up there.”
The key to a big game for Ashley will be what happens up front with Pine Bluff’s offensive line. North Little Rock’s defensive tackles are all at least 300 pounds and the ends are 240 pounds.
“They look like a college football team in their front,” Bobby Bolding said. “We have to occupy and stay on them to get creases for Walter so he can get through for four to five yards and be a bit more patient.”
Special teams doomed North Little Rock in its loss last week. The Charging Wildcats gave up an 84-yard punt return, had a punt blocked and missed a field goal.
Brad Bolding said that has been a major focus this past week in practice.
“We had 300 total yards and beat them offensively and defensively, but the special teams has to be on track,” he said. “We’ve been doing some extra work to shore that up and it’s another week where the special teams better be sharp.”
While Bobby Bolding said this game has to help Pine Bluff get ready for the 7A/6A-South Conference opener at Texarkana next week, he knows his players want this win.
“We are going to try and do everything in our power to be 3-0,” he said. “Our kids are excited about playing and like the challenge of playing a good teams.”