GREENWOOD — At halftime of Friday night’s 6A state semifinal at Greenwood, Pine Bluff head coach Bobby Bolding was questioning the mental focus of his kicker.
Zebras senior Austin McGehee had left four points on the field in the first half with a missed extra point and a 38-yard field goal that fell well short.
“I went to Coach Nik (Richard Nekoranik) at halftime,” Bolding said. “I asked him if (McGehee) was all there mentally, because he usually never does those things.
“He said, ‘He’s fine.’”
McGehee proved Coach Nik right.
Going the same way he missed the 38-yarder, McGehee booted a 47-yard field goal that snuck just over the crossbar as time expired to give Pine Bluff a 37-34 win over Greenwood at Smith-Robinson Stadium.
“I knew it was make it or break it time,” McGehee said. “… After I hit it I prayed the clock hit zero.”
Even though a miss would have only meant going to overtime, McGehee said he didn’t want to give Greenwood another chance at extending its 50-game winning streak.
“I didn’t want to go into overtime,” he said. “I figured this was our best chance to beat them.
“I said enough is enough.”
McGehee’s kick capped a wild few minutes.
With Greenwood clinging to a 31-26 lead, Pine Bluff sophomore quarterback Ladarius Skelton picked up 38 yards down to the Bulldogs’ 9-yard line.
Two plays later senior Trevor Hunt scored his second rushing touchdown of the day — this one from 3 yards out — to give Pine Bluff its first lead since 20-17 early in the third quarter.
Following a Pine Bluff timeout, Skelton carried in for the two-point conversion to give the Zebras a critical three-point lead at 34-31.
With 3:10 left, Greenwood and its high-powered offense took over at its own 22-yard line.
The Bulldogs easily drove down the field and into field-goal range. However, the Pine Bluff defense stepped up once Greenwood reached the red zone.
An incomplete pass on third-and-7 by Bulldogs QB Jabe Burgess forced a 32-yard field goal attempt by Kevin Jones. Jones drilled the kick to tie the game, 34-34, with 1:02 left in regulation.
Pine Bluff started its game-winning drive from its own 20-yard line with just one timeout.
An 18-yard run by Skelton gave the Zebras some momentum and the officials made their presence felt on the next two plays.
First, the referees picked up a flag initially thrown for intentional grounding after deeming that junior Will Gragg was in the area. On the next play, a deep ball down the left sideline to junior Tyran Simmons drew a pass interference call against Greenwood.
After Hunt was tackled behind the line of scrimmage, Skelton hit sophomore David Beasley to get Pine Bluff to the edge of McGehee’s range.
With 8 seconds remaining, Bolding decided to run one more play to give his senior a little shorter kick.
Hunt picked up four yards — every one of which McGehee needed — on a pretty remarkable run considering the circumstances.
“We only had 10 on the field for that last running play,” Bolding said. “We should have had a fullback out on the field, but he was just over there on the sideline.
“But we did what we wanted, and that was get some yardage and get to the middle of the field.”
Friday’s win sends the Zebras to their second consecutive 6A state championship game. Pine Bluff will face 7A/6A-South rival El Dorado at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 7, at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. El Dorado, which beat Jonesboro 23-21 on Friday night, defeated Pine Bluff earlier this season, 21-14.
With Pine Bluff advancing to the state final, McGehee had to change his plans for next weekend.
“It’s kind of funny actually,” he said, “I haven’t had my official visit yet, so Purdue bought me plane tickets to fly up next weekend.
“I told them, ‘If we win, you have to cancel it.’
“So I just called my coach and told him he’d have to cancel it.”