El Dorado is the team everyone thinks it is and the team the Wildcats have been over the past four seasons — a state title contender.
After dropping their first two games of the season, the Wildcats have won their last five and look every bit the part of a three-time defending state champion.
“They are a good football team,” Pine Bluff coach Bobby Bolding said. “They are well coached and they believe in what they are doing and reload every year.
“Anytime you get two good football teams together, it’s fun. We will see what happens.”
The Wildcats have won four of the last five meetings. Pine Bluff’s (6-1, 4-0 7A/6A-South) last win over El Dorado (5-2, 4-0) came during the 2009 season, but the Wildcats beat the Zebras to win their first of three straight titles.
Even though El Dorado lost its first two games, Bolding knows this is a team that will once again compete for a state title.
“We have great respect for them and they earned that respect on the field by beating us the last couple of years,” he said. “Their kids are executing better and they played a tough early schedule.”
El Dorado’s first loss of the season was to Camden Fairview, which is ranked No. 2 in Class 5A by Hootens.com and is undefeated still. Fort Smith Southside was the second team to beat El Dorado and is ranked No. 5 in 7A.
El Dorado coach Scott Reed said his team just was not good the first two weeks of the season.
“We had some nagging injuries and we got whipped. We didn’t play real well,” he said. “They hung in there and have started to see some progress, but I think those first two weeks helped us down the road, too.
“Our expectations were really high in the start and we got a dose of reality. We are a better team for it and the last few weeks, we have played better and we are confident.”
El Dorado is ranked No. 3 in 6A and Pine Bluff is No. 4. They are the only undefeated teams left in the conference.
“Whoever gets this one has the inside track along with the home-field advantage in the playoffs,” Reed said. “That’s our first goal, is to win the conference, and every year this game seems to have a say in it.”
Despite which team wins this game, Bolding said there are still two weeks after this game that could still determine who wins the conference.
“We both have two games left, and win or lose this one, the next one is going to be bigger than this one,” he said. “We just have to worry about this one right here and try and get a win and we will worry about the next one.”
Pine Bluff has to travel to Sheridan next week and finishes the regular season at home against Benton. El Dorado travels to Benton and hosts Bryant to close out the season.
Quarterback Lucas Reed leads El Dorado’s offense, just like his brother Taylor used to do. Both are Scott Reed’s sons.
Last week, Reed passed for 350 yards and three touchdowns against Lake Hamilton and he has passed for 1,175 yards and 14 touchdowns while completing 61 percent of his passes this season.
“I am about ready for the Reed boys to be graduated and gone,” Bolding said. “Lucas does a great job of running the offense and he is a fierce competitor and we look forward to competing against him.”
Pine Bluff held El Dorado to 21 points in last year’s loss, which was the second-lowest total for the Wildcats. El Dorado beat Marion 16-15 in the playoffs.
“Pine Bluff has seven starters back from last year and I thought their defense was as good as any that we played,” Reed said. “We have to be really good offensively to have a chance in the ballgame because I think their defense is really strong.”
Offensively, Pine Bluff will stick with a steady dose of Walter Ashley running the ball with Trever Hunt mixed in. Quarterback Rickey Clements will also take some shots down the field like he has done throughout the season.
“Offensively, you can’t stop one thing because they are able to move the ball through the ground and the air and that makes them harder to defend,” Reed said. “They have a couple of running backs that scare you and their quarterback has come along and is making plays in the passing game.”