Benton’s Shaun Carey fumbles the ball after Pine Bluff’s Devarious Rice (6) tackles him last Thursday. (Special to the Commercial/William Harvey)
Pine Bluff football coach Bobby Bolding has been around the game long enough to know that records are thrown out when the playoffs start and the team needs to be prepared for any opponent.
Bolding said that is exactly the kind of focus he has seen out of his team this week in practice.
“We are looking forward to getting in the playoffs,” he said. “You have to regroup yourself and understand everyone is 0-0 and starting a new season with new things to prove.
“Our focus has been really good this week in practice and kids have turned it up mentally and physically.”
The approach to this week’s game might be a bit surprising, though. Pine Bluff opens up the first round of the Class 6A playoffs against Little Rock Hall (0-9), which is on a 16-game losing streak.
On the other hand, Pine Bluff is 9-1 this year and went undefeated in the 7A/6A-South, which included a win over three-time defending state champion El Dorado. The Zebras’ only loss is to 7A North Little Rock, which is ranked No. 2 by Hootens.com in its class. Pine Bluff is ranked No. 2 in 6A.
The sharp focus against a subpar team has even caught Bolding by surprise.
“They haven’t approached it that way. Kind of surprised me and I was concerned about that,” he said. “Monday, they were really tuned in and asking questions. They understand what is at stake regardless of what Hall’s record is.
“The Hall kids know that and they are going to play different than they did in Week 10. Our kids have approached it very well.”
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at Jordan Stadium. Admission to all playoff games are $6 for adults and students. Season passes are not valid for playoff games, which is set by the Arkansas Activities Association.
Pine Bluff, which is fully healthy according to Bolding, did not have the same approach against a team that is similar to Little Rock Hall.
When Pine Bluff played Little Rock Fair earlier in the year, the Zebras scored a 41-0 victory over a team that has not won in two years. Despite the win, Bolding was not happy with his team’s effort and how they prepared for the game.
Bolding sees no similarities between the preparation for Fair and Hall this week.
“We were just as guilty as a coaching staff and we came off a brutal six-game stretch and we all knew we were going to beat Fair, so we let them rest mentally and physically,” he said. “We aren’t approaching it that way this week and we are ready.”
The team is not looking ahead, either. Pine Bluff’s second-round opponent will be the winner of the Russelville vs. Benton game. The Zebras beat Benton in the last game of the season.
“No attention to any of that and worrying about our game,” Bolding said. “We will worry about who wins that game and who we will face in the next round on Saturday.”
One major reason Pine Bluff has to focus on Hall — Bolding still thinks his team has a lot of work to do despite a 9-1 record.
“We aren’t where we need to be as a team and have to get better,” he said. “I don’t want to see us lying around on defense like we have been and fix the little things.
“Details like carry the ball with both hands in a crowd, staying with the reads longer and staying with the block count longer. Each week you play someone that is better and you have to take care of those details.”
6A FIRST ROUND
Little Rock Hall (0-9) at Pine Bluff (9-1)
• 7 p.m. Friday at Jordan Stadium
• Seeds: Hall eighth in East (played in 7A/6A-Central); Pine Bluff first in South (won 7A/6A-South)
• Last week: Hall lost to Little Rock Parkview 49-14; Pine Bluff def. Benton 43-6