The Pine Bluff Zebras haven’t had to take many long road trips this season, thanks in large part to home games with Fort Smith Northside and Texarkana.
Pine Bluff has traveled to play Lake Hamilton and El Dorado (both losses), among others, but for the most part the Zebras have been relatively close to home this year.
Pine Bluff (8-3-1) has been able to host its first two 6A playoff games, and it wasn’t until a Week 5 trip to Bryant that the Zebras even left Jefferson County.
That all changes this week when No. 2 seed Pine Bluff travels to No. 1 seed Greenwood to face the Bulldogs (12-0) in the 6A semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday at Smith-Robinson Stadium.
Pine Bluff head coach Bobby Bolding said he’s not concerned about the long trip, which will take about five hours for his team to make, including a stop for lunch.
“I like it,” he said. “We like traveling, the further the better.
“We have a pretty good road mark over the last seven years.
“It’s actually really great, because it’s just a whole day of football. There’s no other distractions or anything else the players have to worry about.”
It’s a theme the team has embraced in a week with just two days of school.
“It kind of fits what we’ve been doing this week,” Bolding said. “From about 2:35 on Tuesday afternoon, we’ve been basically professional football players this week.
“With nothing to worry about but football, we’ve basically been professional players and coaches this week.”
Friday night’s game will technically be a rematch of last year’s 6A state title game, which was the teams’ first ever meeting. But considering only 12 combined starters returned for the teams this season, Greenwood’s 51-44 win will likely have little impact on Friday’s game.
According to Bolding, what will determine the game is how each team does in three major areas — turnovers, big plays and special teams.
“We can’t turn the ball over on offense, give up big plays on defense or struggle on special teams,” Bolding said. “If we fail in one of those areas, it will be a long night for us.
“If we’re hitting on all of three of those areas, I like our chances.”
Greenwood comes into the game with stellar numbers on both sides of the ball. So far this season, the Bulldogs are averaging 428 yards and 43 points a contest offensively, while holding opponents to just over 12 points per game.
“It’s not a magical, mystical offense or defense,” Bolding said. “They just do it well.”
Last week, Pine Bluff dominated Siloam Springs, 35-7, to advance to the semifinals. In that game, sophomore quarterback Ladarius Skelton threw two touchdown passes — one to sophomore Kacy Higgins and one to junior Will Gragg — and also rushed for a touchdown.
The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs also cruised into the semifinals. A week after putting up 42 first-quarter points against Little Rock Fair, Greenwood routed Little Rock Parkview, 45-0, in the quarterfinals.
The Bulldogs are searching for their fourth consecutive state title — second straight 6A title after two 5A championships — and bring a 50-game winning streak into the matchup. Greenwood last loss in 2010, 38-31, to Siloam Springs.
With as many players as Greenwood graduates every year, Bolding doesn’t put too much stock into the winning streak. His focus is on the players the Bulldogs are putting out on the field Friday night.
“They are a really good football team,” Bolding said, “but this team is not 50-0.
“This team is 12-0.”