The Pine Bluff Zebras have one game already under their belts this season, while the Watson Chapel Wildcats have yet to play a meaningful game.
The advantage goes to the Zebras, right?
Not so fast, says Pine Bluff head coach Bobby Bolding.
The seventh-year Zebras coach said the extra game won’t give his team “any advantage whatsoever” when the two teams meet at 7 tonight at Wildcat Stadium.
Last week, Pine Bluff senior kicker Austin McGehee hit a 37-yard field goal to salvage a 31-31 tie against Fort Smith Northside, while Watson Chapel had an open date.
“We’re too young and too inexperienced for that to give us an advantage,” Bolding said of having played a game. “They are the ones who are bringing so many people back and they’re also playing at home.
“Everything is in their favor, just like last year when we were the experienced team playing at home and had everything in our favor.”
Despite the Zebras’ 48-12 win over the Wildcats last season, Bolding expects a tough challenge from Watson Chapel.
“It’s going to be a battle,” he said. “It always is against them.
“They’re always physical, they play hard, they don’t turn the ball over much and they don’t take many penalties. That’s all a sign of good coaching.”
Based on the game tape from Watson Chapel’s 43-36 scrimmage win over Forrest City, Bolding said he expects the Wildcats to focus on getting the ball to their skill position players out in space.
“I saw that they got the ball to No. 1 (Devonte Battles) and No. 21 (Tre Cole) a lot,” Bolding said. “They are very quick and fast.
“They like to get them on the outside in one-on-one situations where they look to make the one guy miss and break a long play.”
Against Northside, the Pine Bluff defense gave up just over 100 yards through the air, but allowed 294 yards on the ground, including 136 (109 in the first half) by junior running back Justin Curry.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Zebras’ sophomore quarterback Ladarius Skelton accounted for 245 yards (141 passing and 104 rushing) and three total touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions (both in the first half).
Asked about what he saw from last week’s game tape, Bolding said, “I thought we played with great effort.
“I thought we played really physical, but we still need to be more physical. I thought we made fewer mistakes. We still made a ton of mistakes, but we made fewer mistakes this (last) week than we did in the scrimmage.”
Correcting the mistakes, or at least a few of them, has been a point of emphasis for Pine Bluff coach staff this week.
“The coaches and I look at the game tape over the weekend,” Bolding said, “and out of the barrel of mistakes each player made, we tried to pick out one mistake and have them work on correcting it this week.”
One key for Friday night will be how Pine Bluff’s inexperienced players handle the atmosphere of a road game.
“I don’t know how they’ll handle it,” Bolding said. “I won’t know that until Friday night.”