Preps Notebook: Zebras’ defense rattles top QBs


The last two weeks, Pine Bluff has faced a couple of quarterbacks who have presented problems for the Zebras’ defense.

Bryant’s Hayden Lessenberry passed for 271 yards and four touchdowns in a win again Benton before facing the Zebras. But he completed just 18 of his 40 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown as the Zebras earned a 24-21 comeback win.

Clay Jessie led Lake Hamilton to a 4-1 record and a No. 5 ranking in Hootens.com before the Zebras beat the Wolves 40-9 on Friday. Jessie was 4-of-16 passing and two interceptions. He did not complete a pass in the second half.

Pine Bluff coach Bobby Bolding said the defense has really stepped up the last two weeks.

“Anytime you play great pass defense, it’s because you get a good pass rush, you are disciplined in the secondary and you have to have good athletes back there, too,” he said. “We have some great athletes back there. We have a lot of experienced guys that can be there and done it.”

The Zebras were able to put a good rush on Lessenberry and Jessie, but they only came away with one sack.

Bolding said the sacks have not been as important as the pressure Pine Bluff is putting on the quarterbacks.

“Hurrying them up,” he said. “When you can get some pressure on them, they are leery of our speed in the secondary.”

Even though the Pine Bluff defense has played well this year, Bolding still has a list of about seven to eight things he would like to see the Zebras improve on.

“This is a list of things on defense that we need to fix that we have not fixed,” Bolding said. “So, we are not anywhere where we need to be yet and try and emphasize this list this week.”

‘Bye’ week coming up for Pine Bluff

Despite a tough six-week stretch to start the season, Pine Bluff is 5-1 and ranked in the top five in Class 6A by Hootens.com.

The Zebras’ only loss is to one of the top teams in the state — North Little Rock.

“We have had a tough stretch and we are wore out,” Bolding said. “I want to rest them up a little bit the next few days and heal them up some and recharge some batteries. I am very proud of them.”

The difficult start to the season included two three-hour trips — one to Fort Smith Northside and the other to Texarkana — a win over 7A Bryant, a win over Lake Hamilton, which made the 6A championship game last year, and a win over Watson Chapel, which is ranked in the top five in 5A.

The Zebras’ next opponent allows them to take it a bit easier this week. Little Rock J.A. Fair is 0-6 and has not scored over 14 points in any game this year.

Even with J.A. Fair this week, Bolding knows there is a lot of time before the playoffs start.

“We are just 5-1 and there is a lot of football left,” he said. “So we are not going to overdo this.”

Concerns? What concerns?

It’s that week. Watson Chapel will play White Hall on Friday.

Watson Chapel’s previous game was no walk in the park, as the Wildcats protected their homecoming with a 28-23 victory over Hope. Watson Chapel (5-1, 3-0 in 5A-South) saw a 14-0 lead dwindle to 14-13 at halftime and fumbled the ball three times for its second-closest win of the season.

Wildcats coach George Shelton was asked about any concerns he had going into the White Hall game.

“About what?” he responded. “I have the same concerns that every football head coach has. We all have worries every day of things we need to work on, but I have no real heartfelt concerns or anything like that.”

Defense surely doesn’t seem to be an issue for the Wildcats. They limited Hope to 144 total yards, including 40 rushing.

“We’re real pleased with the way they’re playing,” Shelton said of the defense. “They’re getting a lot more confidence. They have a greater expectation of being successful when they take the field, and you can see that by the way they really, really seem to fight hard.”

Plenty of ground

White Hall gained 390 of about 450 total yards in Friday’s 50-21 victory at Hot Springs Lakeside, according to coach Mike Vaughn. But it’s the passing game the Bulldogs will need to execute well to beat the Wildcats, he said.

“We need to throw the football better against Chapel,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn couldn’t recall exact passing statistics from the Lakeside game, but quarterback Terrance Vaughn has been accurate in previous games for the Bulldogs.

White Hall averages 42.2 points per game, not counting stats from the suspended Little Rock Christian game, and have scored 50 points in two of its last three games. The Bulldogs needed only 29 plays to score that many against Lakeside, thanks in large part to big plays.

Keeping Watson Chapel from the end zone is another matter.

“They have so much speed,” Vaughn said. “What we have to do is keep them from scoring quick.”