The Pine Bluff vs. Lake Hamilton game is almost always a close affair.
Pine Bluff (4-1, 2-0 in 7A/6A South) leads the overall series between the two, 7-6. During Bobby Bolding’s tenure, the Zebras are 3-3 against Lake Hamilton (4-1, 2-0).
Last year, Lake Hamilton mercy-ruled Pine Bluff with a 56-21 victory, but the Zebras pushed the Wolves to the brink in the 6A semifinals. The Wolves prevailed, though, 23-21 before falling to El Dorado in the championship game.
Pine Bluff could be coming off an emotional high after coming back from a 14-0 halftime deficit to beat Bryant 24-21 last week. However, the Zebras almost immediately turned their attention to tonight’s game against the Wolves after the win.
“The kids came in and were celebratory, but when they walked out the door, they were already talking about Lake Hamilton,” Bolding said. “It’s usually an entertaining game for the fans and the players, and hopefully it is entertaining in our direction this year.
“It will be a be battle until the very end. They are always very well coached and big on both sides of the ball, which always presents a problem.”
Pine Bluff’s players have a bit of extra motivation against Lake Hamilton. Bolding always asks his players the game they want to win the most during the season. Lake Hamilton’s name was one of the most frequent he heard — along with El Dorado.
“It was the only game our seniors lost in their junior high careers,” Bolding said. “They would like to square that up a little bit, and it was a long time ago. But sometimes it just takes a little thing to give a team a spark and if they feed off it, so be it.”
Lake Hamilton’s offense is led by quarterback Clay Jessie and running back Chris Eastburn, and the Wolves’ offense revolves around the play-action pass.
“A lot of their offense is predicated on the play action and they do the same stuff since seventh grade,” Bolding said. “Jessie is very efficient and he does not make many mistakes.”
The play-action offense means the Pine Bluff defense has to play disciplined, which Bolding has been preaching since the Zebras faced West Memphis in the preseason scrimmage.
“It’s the sixth game of the year and we have been working on the play action,” he said. “Whether we can defend it, that remains to be seen, but it’s coming.
“Your eyes on the defensive side of the ball, they have to be on your key and your key will take you to the ball. If you start getting your eyes off the key and in the backfield, that will get you in trouble.”
Lake Hamilton also has a big offensive line, led by 6-foot-3, 280-pound left tackle Trey Martin. But the weakness of the line could be the fact that most of the them play on both sides of the ball.
“Hopefully that can benefit us a little bit … but don’t know how much wearing down we will do to them since they have been doing that since they were sophomores,” Bolding said. “Sometimes playing both ways, your pass rush is not as good and you can get some outside stuff.”
Pine Bluff’s offense will feature Rickey Clements back as the starting quarterback. Last week, Clements was pulled at halftime because Bolding felt Brandon Starks could provide a spark and he did.
Bolding said Clements is still the starter, but Starks will see some time.
“Rickey is the starting quarterback and we didn’t feel like Rickey did anything to lose the job,” he said. “We have a luxury there that most people don’t have and we are grateful for it. I fully expect Brandon to see some time out there.”
Pine Bluff was without running back Walter Ashley for much of the second half last week with a shoulder injury, but Bolding said Ashley practiced all week and is good to go.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. today at Jordan Stadium.