Wildcats ready for season opener against Zebras

At 7 p.m. Friday night, the Watson Chapel Wildcats will take the field against somebody other than themselves for the first time since a scrimmage against Forrest City on Aug. 27.

After not having a game during week one, the Wildcats will finally open their season with a home game against the Pine Bluff Zebras at Wildcat Stadium.

“It wasn’t pre-planned,” Watson Chapel head coach George Shelton said of not having a game last week. “We’d played in the Hooten’s Kickoff (week) three years in a row, so when they didn’t call it left a hole in our schedule.”

When asked if he thought the schedule favored either team, Shelton said, “Coaches often say you make the biggest progress between game one and game two, so that would give them even more of an advantage.

“Although, it helped to be able to look at them live.”

Shelton was in attendance when Pine Bluff (0-0-1) opened its season on Friday with a 31-31 tie against Fort Smith Northside.

“I think they’re a tremendous football team,” he said of the Zebras. “They’re a very physical football team, they’re well-coached, make few mistakes and have an outstanding running game.”

Pine Bluff sophomore quarterback Ladarius Skelton and senior running back Trevor Hunt each had a rushing touchdown in the opener, but Watson Chapel has a pretty good running back, too.

In 2012, Devonte Battles had over 1,000 all-purpose yards, including 725 rushing yards, and 11 total touchdowns (nine rushing).

The senior came up huge in the Wildcats’ 43-36 scrimmage win over Forrest City. Battles accounted for five touchdowns, including a kickoff return, and three two-point conversions in the contest.

Chances are Battles will need to have a big game if the Wildcats are to fair better against the Zebras than they did last season. Last year, Pine Bluff and Watson Chapel also met the second week of the season with the Zebras winning 48-12.

“I don’t think Watson Chapel has a long history of success against Pine Bluff,” Shelton said. “In fact, I know they don’t because I used to coach at Pine Bluff.”

Shelton, who is entering his sixth season as the Wildcats’ coach, is looking forward to the challenge of beating a team that finished as the 6A state runner-up last year.

“We’re definitely stepping up in class,” he said of playing Pine Bluff. “These are the kind of games that you look forward to.

“When it comes to the nonconference, you try and play people that are really good. Pine Bluff is as good as they come. … They’ve been to the war and fought it.”

Shelton hopes to see a team that is fully prepared when Watson Chapel takes the field on Friday.

“I’m hoping we appear and perform as a team that has prepared offensively and defensively,” he said. “(Leading to the game) I want us to continue with our preparation.

“I think we are mentally in a good place and physically in good shape.”