EL DORADO — Pine Bluff head coach Bobby Bolding said he has never been in a game like the one his team played in Friday night.
And for the Zebras, it wasn’t a good thing.
Pine Bluff turned the ball over seven times and let El Dorado overcome a 14-0 first-quarter deficit as the Wildcats won the 7A/6A-South matchup 21-14 at Memorial Stadium.
Despite the turnovers, Pine Bluff (4-3-1, 3-2) outgained El Dorado (4-4, 4-1) 389 to 252, including a 286-73 edge on the ground.
“I have never been in a game where you totally dominate and have seven turnovers,” Bolding said.
Pine Bluff sophomore quarterback Ladarius Skelton suffered through the toughest game of his young high school career. Skelton threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball four times.
“We dropped three balls,” Bolding said. “So we had some good throws we just didn’t catch, but we also had some very, very poor throws.
“Our offense executed. We just didn’t take care of the football.”
Skelton’s biggest turnover came on a fumble inside the El Dorado 1-yard line early in the third quarter with Pine Bluff up 14-7 and looking to take a two-score lead.
Despite losing a fumble on the Zebras’ first possession, Skelton did get off to a fairly good start. Skelton accounted for both Pine Bluff touchdowns — a 9-yard run and an 18-yard pass to junior Tyran Simmons — in the game’s first eight minutes. But those would be all the points the Zebras could muster.
Even with all the turnovers, Pine Bluff had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.
After forcing a punt, the Zebras took over at their own 10-yard line with 2:33 left on the clock. Skelton found Simmons for a first down, but the drive stalled and Skelton was tackled for a 3-yard gain on a fourth-and-5 play from his own 25.
The Zebras’ offense clearly made the most mistakes on the night, but Pine Bluff’s special teams and defense were far from flawless.
The special teams’ unit allowed a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown by senior Jaqualoyn Willis to open the second half. The ensuing extra point tied the score 14-14.
“I thought we had fixed our kick coverage, but obviously we haven’t,” Bolding said.
The defense, which did force two turnovers of its own, allowed three plays of 40-plus yards. One of those big plays was El Dorado’s opening touchdown on a 41-yard touchdown pass from senior Clayton Waldrum to senior Ty Owens.
“It cost us the ballgame,” Bolding said of his team’s mistakes. “Seven turnovers, plus a blown coverage and a kickoff return for a touchdown.
“You don’t beat anybody when you make those mistakes.”
Willis, who finished with a game-high 89 yards rushing, scored the go-ahead touchdown for El Dorado with a 4-yard TD run on the second play of the fourth quarter.
Despite giving up the big plays, Bolding liked how his defense played.
“I thought they played well,” he said. “Well enough to win.”
On the other side of the ball, Pine Bluff had three players rush for over 70 yards. Skelton led the way with 78 yards, senior Trevor Hunt had 75 and junior Kentorious White racked up 70. Skelton finished 12-for-20 with 103 yards passing.
Through the air, it was a tale of two halves for the quarterback. After going 10-of-11 for 73 yards and a touchdown in the first half, he went 2-for-9 for 30 yards and two picks in the second half.
The loss drops Pine Bluff into a tie with Benton at one game back in the conference standings with just two weeks remaining in the regular season. El Dorado joins Lake Hamilton and Bryant in first place at 4-1 in the conference.