For the fourth straight year, the Pine Bluff football team has made it to the Class 6A semifinals with a dominant 63-7 win over Benton on Friday.
While the Zebras are in the semifinals, Pine Bluff coach Bobby Bolding isn’t satisfied.
“We’ve been knocking on the door and it’s time for us to kick it in,” he said. “These kids are hungry, we are going to play a great football team next week and we will have to play great football, but I think these young men are up for the challenge.”
Pine Bluff (11-1) will host the semifinal game, which is against Jonesboro, and the Zebras have won their last nine games.
Running back Walter Ashley said it feels really good to be in the semifinals, but the team knows it still has a ways to go before it can hoist the 6A title, or even make the title game.
“Championship and nothing less,” he said. “It’s here, I feel it, but still taking it one game at a time. Going to practice hard and work on (Jonesboro).”
Bolding said his team is not playing its best ball yet, but it continues to get better every week.
“We are getting close to peaking and this is the right time of the year to do it,” he said.
Wallace Foote presented the biggest challenge coming into Friday’s game. A week after rushing for 463 yards and six touchdowns in a first-round win over Russellville, Foote was held to just 4 yards on six carries. He did pass for 21 yards and caught one pass for 7 yards.
“We did a good job on Foote and our coaches did a great job of preparing the kids,” Bolding said. “Knew where he was and they tackled him in space and did what they needed to do.”
Foote was not the only one the Pine Bluff defense held in check. Benton (4-8) had just 56 total yards by halftime and the backups were in the game in the second half. The Panthers finished with 156 total yards and did not get their first first down until about the 1:30 mark of the second quarter.
“I am proud of our defense and the coaches put together a simple game plan to let our kids play and put them on the ball,” Bolding said. “When they get to the ball, they are pretty violent when they get there. The twos and threes played well, too.”
Offensively, Pine Bluff racked up 418 yards of total offense and the starters were pulled by halftime. The Zebras had 376 yards on the ground, which made Bolding happy since he was not too pleased with the rushing attack the last few weeks.
“We had some consistency in the run game and we haven’t that all year and the offensive line got after their tails from the get-go,” he said. “That was a good thing to see.”
Ashley said Bolding stressed all week that the team was going to have to run the ball well.
“The running backs and offensive line just worked real hard to get it to where we needed to be,” he said.
Ashley led the offense with 130 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Trever Hunt added 61 yards and two scores on six carries.
Pine Bluff’s first touchdown came with 5:16 left in the first quarter as Rickey Clements hit Paris Mack for a 25-yard touchdown pass and a 6-0 lead.
Then with 55 seconds left in the opening period, Hunt scored on a 1-yard run and Clements hit Tyrone Payne for the two-point conversion and a 14-0 advantage.
Devarious Rice blocked Benton’s punt on the ensuing possession and Pine Bluff got the ball on the Benton 27-yard line.
Two plays later, Benton came on a safety blitz and Ashley avoided it and broke free for a 28-yard touchdown run.
Ashley added his second touchdown of the game on the next possession on a 4-yard run.
“I am just running to my blocker’s butt and just doing what I need to do,” Ashley said. “All in the blocking. All I did was run and read blocks.”
Clements had the next touchdown on the next drive as he went up the middle on a quarterback draw and outran the Benton defense for a 27-yard touchdown.
The last touchdown of the first half came on Hunt’s 20-yard run right up the gut for a 42-0 lead.
Pine Bluff got the ball to open the second half and the mercy rule was in affect, and it took just three plays for the Zebras to find the end zone again. This time, Kentorious White broke a 56-yard run for a 49-0 lead and on Benton’s first play of the ensuing possession, Tyler Smith picked off Nicholas Quinn’s pass and returned it 20 yards for the touchdown.
Benton’s only score of the game came in the fourth quarter as Quinn found the end zone on a 7-yard run.
But Pine Bluff’s Romar Reades returned the kickoff to the 13-yard line and then got the initial carry and he took it 13 yards for a touchdown for final score of the game.