SHERIDAN — From the very first play of the game, it was evident this would be a big night for the Pine Bluff offense.
Pine Bluff had 35 points and 319 total yards of offense on just 22 plays in the first half as the Zebras came one step closer to their first conference championship since 2008 with a 35-7 win over Sheridan on Friday.
If Pine Bluff (8-1, 6-0 7A/6A-South) beats Benton on Thursday at home, the Zebras will be the conference champions.
The Zebras got off to a great start against Sheridan. Pine Bluff received the opening kickoff and started at its own 27-yard line.
On the first play, running back Walter Ashley worked off his right guard and broke free for a 43-yard run down the right sideline.
Rickey Clements hit Tyrone Payne for a 20-yard pass on the next play before Ashley scored on a 10-yard run for a 7-0 lead and just 59 seconds came off the clock.
“I thought our offense really kind of erupted (Friday night),” Pine Bluff coach Bobby Bolding said. “We needed that offensively. Real proud of our offense. Glad to get a win and to get out of here healthy.”
Sheridan (3-6, 2-4) got a first down on its first play, but was forced to punt three plays later.
Pine Bluff started at its 41-yard line and Clements hit Paris Mack for a 51-yard gain to the Sheridan 2-yard line. Clements capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Will Gragg on fourth down to go up 14-0 with 6:22 left in the first quarter.
That would essentially be all of the scoring Pine Bluff needed since Sheridan only got on the board once.
“They are a better football team and they showed it,” Sheridan coach Louis Campbell said. “They put the second team in in the second quarter and they showed a lot of class in doing that because the score could’ve been 100-0.”
Later in the quarter, Pine Bluff got the ball back at its own 20-yard line to start its fourth drive and it only took one play to score. Ashley got the handoff and went right up the middle and then worked his way toward the left sideline. Once he got to the hash marks, he changed direction and made it all way to the right sideline and ran in untouched for an 80-yard touchdown.
While Ashley almost went from sideline to sideline, he credited his line for creating the initial hole and his receivers for their downfield blocking.
“I really can’t take credit for everything that happened because the offensive line worked real hard and just opened big holes for me to run through,” he said. “I just broke the first wave and had blocking downfield and I just ran to the touchdown. Lots of good blocking, that’s all it is.”
The 80-yard touchdown was Ashley’s last carry of the night and he finished with 138 yards and two touchdowns on five carries. He also had a 29-yard reception.
“He needed a breakout game and he has been banged up for a while and we have kind of babied him,” Bolding said. “When he is full speed, he is a dangerous individual on the field and he was dangerous (Friday).”
Pine Bluff forced a three-and-out on Sheridan’s next possession and took over on the Sheridan 45. It took just five plays for the Zebras to score on fullback Kelvin Sergeant’s 1-yard run.
Sheridan was able to put together a drive to its own 45-yard line, but was forced to punt again.
Pine Bluff took over at its 45-yard line after a 10-yard punt and Sergeant went up the middle and broke a 55-yard touchdown run.
“He can fly, now,” Bolding chuckled. “That was a great run and executed the play and he was in the secondary in a hurry.”
That was Pine Bluff’s last score of the game and the Zebras went into halftime with a 35-0 lead.
“We wanted to put a lot of points on the board early,” Ashley said. “I think we can do this every week.”
Sheridan got on the board with 2:00 left in the third quarter when Dylan Flores hit Tyler Raney at Pine Bluff’s 20 and he broke free to complete the 41-yard touchdown reception.
Pine Bluff gave up just 17 yards of total offense in the first and Sheridan only gained 128 yards in the game.
Bolding was not thrilled with the defensive performance, though.
“I didn’t think we were very mentally prepared and I think the biggest part was we were a little full of ourselves,” he said. “They heard all week how great they were for holding El Dorado to six points and we don’t need to take that mentality. Have to take the mentality to get better every week.
“I just didn’t think we were real crisp (Friday) and we will get better and the kids will see that when they watch the film.”
Clements finished the game with 103 yards passing and one touchdown and Sergeant had 56 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
Flores passed for 129 yards and a touchdown for Sheridan, which plays Texarkana next week for a chance to host a first-round playoff game.
“Got a chance to host a home game so we will see how we come out and react,” Campbell said. “If we come out and fight, we will have a chance. If we don’t, we won’t.”
Pine Bluff hosts Benton, which is 3-6 and 2-4 in the conference. But Ashley said the team will treat Benton as if it was El Dorado again.
“We going to treat every game like it’s the same and we are working for that state championship,” Ashley said. “Conference champion means a lot to us and we are going to shoot for everything.”