The Pine Bluff Zebras dug themselves a hole Friday night of which few teams in the state could have made it out.
Pine Bluff (1-1-1) trailed 21-0 after the first quarter on its way to a 35-14 loss to North Little Rock (2-1) at Jordan Stadium.
“We didn’t give ourselves a chance,” Zebras head coach Bobby Bolding said. “We spent probably an extra hour on special teams this week.
“It’s very disheartening.”
Errors by Pine Bluff’s special teams unit led to 14 of NLR’s first 21 points.
The Zebras were forced to punt on their first possession and the snap to punter Austin McGehee was high and went through the senior’s hands.
McGehee was tackled at Pine Bluff’s 21-yard line and it took NLR running back Juan Day just two carries to find the end zone. The Arkansas commit scored from 15 yards out to give the Charging Wildcats a 7-0 lead just 3 minutes into the game.
Day finished with five carries for 25 yards before leaving with what appeared to be a serious leg injury.
After a 3-yard run by junior wide receiver K.J. Hill extended the Charging Wildcats’ lead to 14-0, Hill provided NLR’s knockout punch.
He fielded a punt by McGehee at his own 21-yard line and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown. A flag thrown on the play was waved off in a telltale sign that it wasn’t Pine Bluff’s night.
“Our kids don’t quite understand the importance of practice,” Bolding said. “Hopefully, this will teach them that.
“I will tell you one thing I liked out of our guys: The kids we had on the field played hard.
“I thought we were the more physical team on the night.”
Pine Bluff’s passing game struggled mightily. Starting quarterback Ladarius Skelton finished the game 3-for-14 for 12 yards and an interception, while backup Roger Totten went 0-for-2 in his limited time. The QBs combined to go 0-for-8 in the second half. Skelton’s pick set up Hill’s touchdown run.
“We just lost all confidence in the passing game,” Bolding said. “We just had way too many dropped balls.
“I think we had at least four dropped balls early in the game.”
Pine Bluff didn’t drop many passes in its first two games and Bolding said his team hadn’t been struggling to catch the ball in practice, either.
“(It) just came out of the blue,” Bolding said.
On the first play of the second quarter, a 44-yard run by sophomore Romar Reades got Pine Bluff on the board and McGehee’s extra point made it 21-7.
With NLR leading 35-7, junior Kentorious White took his second handoff of the game 84 yards to the house as McGehee’s extra point set the final margin.
“I thought several times we were a hair away from popping it,” Bolding said of the running game. “And it wasn’t the same person.
“It was like a different guy every time would miss his block.”
The win improved NLR head coach Brad Bolding to 3-2 (2-2 if you don’t count this summer’s Arkansas High School Coaches Association All-Star game) against his older brother Bobby.
“I told him, ‘Good game and I love you,’” Bobby Bolding said of the brothers’ postgame conversation. “The same thing he said to me.”