Wildcats capitalize red-zone defense


RISON — After halting the Pine Bluff junior varsity five times inside the red zone, the Rison Wildcats posted a hard-earned 33-16 victory over the Zebras in a non-conference tussle at Wildcat Field on Thursday night.

The two teams combined for over 730 yards of offense, but it was Rison (5-2) that made the most of its production for five touchdowns, while the ‘Cat defense dodged bullet after bullet in limiting the Zebras to just one offensive score.

“We’re young, but I’m proud of the way we competed and played hard,” Pine Bluff coach Bobby Bolding said. “I thought we did a great job, and we looked real good until we got in the red zone. Then we made some mistakes.

“But these kids don’t get a lot of reps. They get mental reps by watching in practice. But this will get them ready for next year. We told them Rison would be physical and that they play good football down here. This was good for our kids.”

During the game the Zebras reached the Rison 9, 16, 15, 8 and 14, but came away without points each time. Three of the scoring chances ended with turnovers and twice the Zebras ran out of downs.

The last scoring chance for Pine Bluff came early in the fourth quarter. After the Zebras failed to get in the end zone, Rison ran more than 8 minutes off the clock with an 85-yard scoring drive. Quarterback Nathan Wilson, who rushed 19 times for 146 yards, capped the scoring on a 16-yard touchdown run with just 1:18 left in the game. Zuntario Oliver added the PAT kick to give Rison a 33-16 advantage.

The Wildcats gained 430 yards, all on the ground, and it was the second week in a row they attempted just one pass.

“This was good for us,” Rison coach Clay Totty said, as the Wildcats look to an important 8-2A Conference game next week on the road at Bearden. “They gave us a lot of looks that we just can’t simulate in practice, especially with their speed. That’s something we will see next week.”

Rison took the opening kick and marched 55 yards in eight plays to take an early lead. Oliver capped the scoring drive on a 6-yard run. However, a high snap led to a missed extra point attempt, leaving the score 6-0 with 8:32 left in the opening period.

Pine Bluff — which piled up 305 yards, including 159 yards on the ground and 146 through the air — answered quickly when quarterback Kenan Brown passed to Tyler Bell for a 69-yard touchdown strike.

Kentorius White, who led the Zebras’ ground attack with 68 yards on 13 carries, added a two-point conversion to give Pine Bluff an 8-6 advantage with 8:16 left in the first period.

Jarvis Broughton, who rushed for 135 yards on eight carries, raced 31 yards for a touchdown on Rison’s next possession to regain the lead for the ‘Cats, which they would not relinquish. A try for two points was stuffed, as Rison led 12-8 with 4:34 to go in the opening period. The Zebras put together a drive that reached the Rison 10 for first and goal, but on third down, the Wildcats’ Jordan Mason intercepted Brown’s pass at the 4, returning to near midfield.

On the second play of second quarter, Jokenzie Broughton, who had 76 yards on 19 carries, cracked the goal line from 2 yards out to extend Rison’s lead to 18-8.

After pushing inside the Rison 20 on their next possession, the Zebras’ Malik Jenkins was swarmed on fourth down and fumbled with the Wildcats’ Tristian Ward recovering at the 24 to stop another threat.

Moments later, Broughton found a seam around the left side of the line and scampered 69 yards for a Rison touchdown. Oliver plunged across for a two-point conversion, stretching the Wildcats’ lead to 26-8 with 7:41 remaining in the half.

However, Pine Bluff kept cranking out the yardage as Jenkins darted 32 yards to spark a drive that reached the Rison 15 for a first down.

That was as close as the Zebras could get, though, as Rison’s defense stiffened to turn Pine Bluff away without points.

Rison threatened to break the game wide open, marching to the Zebras’ 21 in the closing seconds of the half. But on the Wildcats’ only pass attempt of the game, Wilson’s pass was intercepted by Tyler Smith, who made a leaping catch at the 5 and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the second period. Jenkins, who had 50 yards on seven carries, added a two-point conversion that trimmed Rison’s advantage to 26-16 at the break.

Early in the third period the Zebras had first and goal at the Rison 8, but White fumbled and Clay Morris recovered the ball for the Wildcats.

After the Zebras stopped a Rison drive at their own 23, they made one last push deep into Wildcat territory. However, after marching to the Rison 14, a couple of passes fell incomplete to end the scoring opportunity.

From the 15, the Wildcats launched their long, time-consuming drive to ice the game with just more than a minute remaining.