PEARCY — When Pine Bluff running back Romar Reades jumped up after a 54-yard run, he probably thought he’d given the Zebras a much-needed spark.
Little did he know that almost 60 yards behind him — inside Pine Bluff’s own 5-yard line — was a flag thrown for holding that would negate his potentially momentum-shifting run.
“He held,” Zebras coach Bobby Bolding said of the play. “It was big, too, because it got us out of a hole. …
“When you don’t move your feet and grab a fistful of jersey, they’ll call it every time.”
The holding penalty was just one of several mistakes that proved costly as Pine Bluff (3-2-1, 2-1 7A/6A-South) lost 33-25 to Lake Hamilton (5-1, 3-0) on Friday night at Summit Bank Field, ending the Zebras’ conference winning streak at nine games.
“I’m starting to lose my patience with them,” Bolding said. “They’re not sophomores anymore.”
Bolding said he thinks it all comes down to trust between the players and coaches.
“The exact things we worked on,” Bolding said, “the exact things we talked about all week, was exactly what happened tonight. …
“They got to get hit between the eyes with a bat to learn that (what we’re telling them) is the truth.”
The Zebras struggled in all phases of the game, but their problems in the special teams’ area were the most glaring.
After going three-and-out on its first possession, it took Zebra punter Austin McGehee to save a touchdown as the Wolves’ Josh Nazario returned the 49-yard punt 46 yards.
The return set up Lake Hamilton on the Pine Bluff 34, and it took the Wolves just three plays to cash in the opportunity.
Senior quarterback Nathan Sawrie took it in himself from 10 yards out. Sophomore Ethan Johnson’s extra point staked Lake Hamilton to a 7-0 lead less than 3 minutes into the game.
Later in the game, an 86-yard kickoff return by Lake Hamilton’s Donnell West set up a 7-yard touchdown run by senior Chris Eastburn — his second of the game — and Johnson’s PAT gave the Wolves’ their largest lead of the game at 26-6. The kickoff return came after Pine Bluff had just pulled within 19-6 following a 39-yard field goal by McGehee.
“This is happening every week,” Bolding said of kicking game woes. “We’ve got the wrong people out there.
“I’m going to fix that. I’m going to fix that on Monday.”
Facing the 20-point deficit, the Zebras’ offense finally started clicking.
Sophomore quarterback Ladarius Skelton hit junior Tyran Simmons for a 39-yard touchdown just three minutes later, but the snap was fumbled on the PAT to keep the score 26-12.
On Lake Hamilton’s ensuing possession, the Pine Bluff defense then made its biggest play of the night.
Senior Kedreck Lasley, who made the game-sealing pick last week at Bryant, intercepted Sawrie — his second pick of the night — to set Pine Bluff up at the Lake Hamilton 40.
Just three plays into the fourth quarter, the Zebras turned the pick into points. Skelton found a nice cutback lane and took it in from 26 yards out. McGehee’s extra point pulled Pine Bluff within seven at 26-19.
Lake Hamilton moved the ball into Pine Bluff territory on its next possession but was forced to kick it back to the Zebras, and Johnson’s punt was downed at the 1.
On second-and-8 from the 3, Reades took a handoff around the left side and the sophomore would have made it all the way to the end zone if it hadn’t been for a shoe-string tackle.
But the holding penalty eventually forced McGehee to punt from his own end zone.
Lake Hamilton probably thought it had put the nail in the coffin with a 27-yard touchdown from Sawrie to senior Levi Rengstorf with 4:13 left to extend its lead to 33-16.
However, Pine Bluff had a quick response. Less than 30 seconds later, Simmons coasted in for his second touchdown of the night. This one from Skelton was good for 80 yards. McGehee missed the extra point, but the Zebras were still within 33-25.
Lake Hamilton recovered McGehee’s onside kick attempt looking to run out the clock.
With 1:53 remaining, the Wolves were facing a fourth-and-2 on the Zebras’ 35-yard line. With Sawrie under center, Pine Bluff senior Dasmine Johnson jumped offsides to give Lake Hamilton a first down and the ability to run out the clock, which it did.
With the win, Lake Hamilton moves to 3-0 in 7A/6A-South play and — coupled with El Dorado’s 23-20 loss to Texarkana — remains the only unbeaten in the conference.
Sawrie finished just 4-for-10 for 67 yards and — despite throwing two picks — did throw two TD passes and accounted for one more on the ground where he finished with 61 yards rushing. Eastburn finished with 70 yards rushing and senior Hunter Lipton chipped in with 55 yards on the ground.
A week after attempting just four passes, Skelton finished the game 14-for-26 for 213 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He also added a team-high 60 yards on the ground, while senior Trevor Hunt picked up 58 yards and Reades added 44. Simmons made just two catches in the contest but both went for touchdowns as he finished with 119 yards receiving.