When the Texarkana Razorbacks won the pregame coin toss and decided to defer they probably assumed they would be receiving the ball to begin the second half. Pine Bluff head coach Bobby Bolding had other ideas.
The Zebras started the second half with a perfectly executed onside kick that helped extend a 7-0 halftime lead into their first home win of the season, 28-13, Friday night at Jordan Stadium.
“It was something we saw on film and practiced all week,” Bolding said. “I wanted to use it to start a half and I wanted to do it to start the second half because we would be kicking it towards our sideline.
“(Greg) Harvey*** did a great job (on the recovery). (Kicker) Austin (McGehee) hit it perfect and Greg Harvey did exactly what we wanted him to do.”
The onside kick may have been the coolest play of the game the second it happened, but it didn’t become the most significant until sophomore Romar Reades finished the drive with a 25-yard touchdown run.
“The most important thing is we went down and scored,” Bolding said. “(The onside kick) doesn’t mean anything if we don’t turn it into points.
“We didn’t want to let them get any momentum.”
Despite shutting Texarkana (1-2, 0-1 7A/6A-S0uth) out in the first half of the two teams’ conference opener, Pine Bluff (2-1-1, 1-0) only managed to put seven points on the board in the opening 24 minutes.
After starting the game at their own 28-yard line, the Zebras engineered a 10-play, 72-yard drive behind a running-back-by-committee and the arm of sophomore quarterback Ladarius Skelton.
On that opening drive, Reades, Trevor Hunt, Kentorious White and Kacy Higgins all carried the rock and Skelton hit Will Gragg, David Beasley and Tyler Bell for completions. Bell’s catch went for 28 yards and a touchdown and McGehee’s extra point gave Pine Bluff a 7-0 lead just 3:28 into the game.
The Zebras had two more first-half drives that went deep into Texarkana territory, but both ended with McGehee missing a field goal attempt, first a 49-yarder, then a 35-yarder.
“I’ve got all the confidence in the world in Shag,” Bolding said of McGehee. “If I had the chance to send him out there again, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”
Even still, Bolding wasn’t pleased his team left, at minimum, six points on the field in the first half.
“I was disappointed that we didn’t finish,” Bolding said. “But I thought our offensive coaches did a great job of adjusting things at halftime to help us out, especially in the red zone.”
Even after Reades’ touchdown put them in a 14-0 hole, the Razorbacks fought back to cut the Zebras lead in half.
Senior quarterback DeAndre Scott found Kendrix McCann open in the corner of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown with 2:47 remaining in the third quarter.
Just before the quarter ended, though, Pine Bluff answered.
Skelton found Bell, again, this time for a 43-yard touchdown with just 17.5 seconds left in the quarter. The junior was interfered with on the play, but still made the catch and somehow tight-roped his way down the sideline for six points.
Midway through the fourth quarter, and still holding a 21-7 lead, Pine Bluff went three-and-out and punted the ball to Texarkana. The Razorbacks fumbled the kick and the Zebras’ Jonathon McClinton recovered to set up Pine Bluff’s final scoring drive.
“That was big,” Bolding said of McClinton’s recovery. “I thought we should have had a roughing the punter penalty thrown, but we hustled down.
“We got down, wrapped up and stripped him.”
Hunt capped the drive with his third touchdown run of the season.
The touchdown was the cherry on top for a rushing attack that racked up 207 yards (30 for Hunt, 87 for Reades, 50 for White, 6 for Higgins, and 34 for Skelton) on 33 carries for an average of 6.27 yards per carry.
“I thought our ability to run the football was huge,” Bolding said. “That’s really what we try to do.
“Run the ball until we pull the safety up then we throw it over the top.”
That philosophy worked almost perfectly Friday night as both of Skelton’s TD passes were set up by the run. Overall, the sophomore performed much better in the pocket than he did against North Little Rock the week before.
“He did a great job of giving our receivers a chance,” Bolding said.
Skelton finished the game 7-for-13, but several of his passes were just off the mark and several hit the intended receiver’s hands. Even with just the seven completions, Skelton managed to finish with 78 yards passing.
The second half deficit turned the Razorbacks into a passing team. After passing the ball just six times in the first half, once on a halfback pass, Texarkana attempted 20 second half passes.
Scott struggled with his accuracy all night finishing 14-for-25 with 196 yards, most of which came when the game was out of reach.
Junior running back Andrew Bishop carried the ball 12 times in the first half, but just five times in the second. He finished with 48 yards and a 2-yard touchdown run with 1:34 remaining in the game. The ensuing extra point was blocked by Reades to set the final score.
While the first conference win is extremely important, Bolding made sure to keep his team grounded.
“I told them, ‘After tonight half the state is going to be in first place and half the state is going to be in last,’” he said. “It’s good that we’re able to start off on top.”
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***Harvey’s name was spelled incorrectly in the original version of this story. Click here for the correction notice.