BRYANT — On a night when Pine Bluff’s offense and special teams were extremely wasteful, it was the Zebras’ defense that came to the rescue.
With under a minute remaining and Bryant driving, Pine Bluff senior linebacker Kedreck Lasley intercepted a pass to seal the Zebras’ 9-3 win over the Hornets on Friday night at Bryant Stadium.
The pick capped off an impressive performance by the Pine Bluff (3-1-1, 2-0 7A/6A-South) defense in its first conference road game of the season.
“Our defense played their butts off,” Zebras head coach Bobby Bolding said. “I could not be more proud of the job our defense and defensive coaches did.
“They no doubt won that game.”
Overall, though, the performance against Bryant (2-3, 1-1) was one that Bolding would likely rather not duplicate anytime soon.
“Our team won,” Bolding said. “But, I’m not very pleased.”
The coach’s frustration stemmed from an offense that failed to finish the abundant opportunities it had to put the game out of reach.
“We had four times in the red zone with no points, maybe five,” Bolding said. “That is not acceptable.
“That is not championship football.”
Twice Pine Bluff turned the ball over on downs inside the Bryant 5-yard line and two more times the Zebras failed to convert short field goals.
“Everything was a total breakdown in the red zone,” Bolding said. “Play-calling. Decision-making. Everything.
“The whole thing was a breakdown.”
While the Pine Bluff offense struggled to get going, the defense stepped up from the beginning as they forced a three-and-out on Bryant’s first drive. In fact, the Hornets didn’t pick up a first down until they were down 9-0 in the second quarter.
Once Bryant picked up that first down, though, the offense began clicking. The Hornets drove deep into Zebra territory, but Pine Bluff stood strong and forced Bryant into settling for a field goal.
Hornet junior kicker Alex Denker converted the 38-yarder with 4:37 to go in the first half. The kick brought Bryant within six at 9-3.
Pine Bluff had a chance to extend its lead just before halftime, but they failed to capitalize on a huge 75-yard catch-and-run by sophomore David Beasley. Facing a fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Zebra senior running back Trevor Hunt was stopped for a 1-yard gain in what became a preview of things to come.
Compared to the second half, Pine Bluff actually enjoyed a very fruitful opening 24 minutes.
Senior kicker Austin McGehee converted a 23-yard field goal to open the scoring with 2:35 left in the first quarter, then sophomore Kacy Higgins scored on a 16-yard end-around run four minutes into the second. However, McGehee’s extra point attempt was blocked and Pine Bluff would go scoreless for the game’s final 32 minutes.
Despite clinging to a six-point lead for the entire second half, Pine Bluff’s defense was able to force Bryant junior quarterback Brandan Warner to try and win the game with his arm. The Zebras bottled up the Hornets running backs, limiting their rushing attack to 85 yards on 25 carries.
Warner finished just 14-of-29 for 160 yards with no touchdowns and one costly interception.
For Pine Bluff, sophomore quarterback Ladarius Skelton attempted only four passes completing two of them for 84 yards. The Zebras’ rushing attack had a very successful game other than the problems on third-and-short and fourth-and-short plays.
Pine Bluff racked up 277 yards on the ground with five Zebras — Hunt, Skelton, Higgins, sophomore Romar Reades and junior Kentorious White — finishing with 40-64 yards rushing each.