Stingy defense key for Z’s

While a team’s offense may get all the glory and fill up the stat sheets, it is a defense that ultimately decides a game. For the Pine Bluff Zebras, the old cliché, “Defense wins championships,” rings true.

“Our defense has really played well,” head coach Bobby Bolding said in an interview on Wednesday. “In the last 10 games, our starting defense has allowed six touchdowns.”

So far this season, Pine Bluff has allowed 2,790 yards of total offense, including 1,233 rushing yards and 1,557 yards. They have forced 17 fumbles on defense.

“They are fast and they like to run on that side of the ball,” Bolding said. “They are like that in practice too. They knock the fire out of each other every day.

“They are disciplined and they do what they are coached to do.”

The last time Pine Bluff’s starting defense allowed a touchdown was against El Dorado on Oct. 19.

After Pine Bluff scored to take a 7-0 lead, El Dorado responded with a 49-yard drive, capped off with a 24-yard touchdown run by Marque Burris.

The Zebras blocked the extra point to maintain the lead. Pine Bluff would go on to win 21-6.

Pine Bluff held the Wildcats to 233 yards of total offense that night. El Dorado quarterback Lucas Reed finished the game 18 of 32 for 146 yards – a week after passing for 350 yards.

It was the first time the Zebras had beaten El Dorado since 2009 during the regular season. That year, El Dorado won the first of three consecutive state titles by beating Pine Bluff in the championship game.

“They understand the scheme,” Bolding said of his defense. “It fits their personality. They can run. Our slowest guy runs a 4.8 (second 40-yard dash).”

“If somebody does mess up, there is enough speed out there to cover.”

Pine Bluff punched their ticket to the state championship last week with a 24-0 win over Jonesboro in the 6A semifinal at Jordan Stadium.The Zebras limited a Golden Hurricane offense that boasted a 1,870-yard rusher in Martin Stafford and a 1,000-yard rushing quarterback in D.J. Anderson.

Anderson completed 9 of 22 passes for 77 yards with an interception.

Pine Bluff held Jonesboro to 200 yards of offense. The Zebras kept the Hurricane out of the red zone on all but one drive.

Jonesboro made it to the Pine Bluff 10 in the fourth quarter before losing possession on four straight incomplete passes.

“Our defense is not built around anybody; it is a group,” Bolding said.

Pine Bluff’s only loss this season was a 47-10 setback to North Little Rock in September. North Little Rock was knocked out of the 7A playoffs by Fayetteville last week.

Since the conference season started, Pine Bluff’s defensive starters have allowed 36 points or 3.6 points per game. Junior linebacker Brandon Lee leads the Zebras in tackles with 64. Raymond Bynum, who didn’t play football last year, is second with 63.

Bolding said he is not surprised by Bynum’s performance.

“We have five guys who have between 53 to 65 tackles, and a bunch with 40,” Bolding said. “A lot of that has to do with them being physical.”

Pine Bluff has 10 seniors on its defense and most of them have been together since seventh grade and a few are three-year starters.

“All four of our linebackers are in the top tiers statistically,” Bolding said. “That is the way our defense is designed.”

Pine Bluff’s defense will have its hands full this weekend, when it faces an undefeated Greenwood at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

Greenwood has steamrolled opponents throughout the season, with its closest call coming at Little Rock Parview (34-21) on Sept. 28.

The 6A state championship is scheduled to kickoff at noon Saturday.