What to watch for in the 6A state championship


When Pine Bluff’s on offense

1. How successful will the rushing attack be?

In the first matchup on Oct. 25, the Zebras ran for 286 yards against the Wildcats. The balanced attack saw three Pine Bluff players total over 70 yards on the ground — Ladarius Skelton (78), Trevor Hunt (75) and Kentorious White (70). The first time around, Pine Bluff did a good job of limiting the chances El Dorado’s Bijhon Jackson had to make the tackle. If the Zebras can have similar success on Saturday, then the play-action game should open up the passing attack.

2. Will Tyran Simmons continue to shine in the vertical passing game?

The junior came out of nowhere to shine against Lake Hamilton with two long touchdown catches — 39 and 80 yards, respectively. Against El Dorado, though, he only had three catches for 30 yards, but he did haul in an 18-yard touchdown pass from Skelton. Simmons has been a game-changer since he first burst on the scene against the Wolves, including a 34-yard TD catch against Greenwood.

3. Can Will Gragg be a factor in the red zone?

The junior tight end had three touchdown catches in the first two weeks of the playoffs, but was kept out of the end zone against Greenwood. Gragg didn’t see much action in the red zone in that semifinal contest two weeks ago, but he can still prove to be a great decoy. Even though, he didn’t find the end zone against the Bulldogs, Gragg still made one of the game’s biggest plays. He made a tackle on an interception by Greenwood that might have otherwise been returned for a touchdown, and on the next play Pine Bluff’s Greg Harvey returned an interception for a touchdown.

4. How many turnovers will Pine Bluff have?

In the teams’ first matchup, El Dorado forced seven Pine Bluff turnovers. Skelton was responsible for six of those turnovers. To his credit, the sophomore quarterback has bounced back nicely from what was easily his worst game of the season. The fact that the Zebras only lost 21-14 the first time around, despite having two interceptions and five lost fumbles, had to be somewhat encouraging.

When Pine Bluff’s on defense

1. Can Pine Bluff shut down Jaqualoyn Willis, again?

The senior had a game-high 89 yards in the first contest, but 47 of those yards came on one big run. The Zebras tackled Willis for negative yardage on seven of the 20 times he carried the ball. He still had a productive night scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a 4-yard carry early in the fourth quarter, but Pine Bluff would likely take his stat line of 89 yards on 20 carries with one touchdown again on Saturday.

2. Will Pine Bluff be able to cover Ty Owens?

The senior wide receiver was a matchup nightmare in the teams’ first encounter. He caught a 41-yard touchdown pass from El Dorado quarterback Clayton Waldrum for his team’s first score of the game. Owens finished the game with seven catches for 129 yards. Just to put that in perspective, Skelton only mustered 103 yards through the air that night.

3. How much of a factor will El Dorado’s other receivers be?

Chances are Owens will get his catches and yards, but if he’s the only one catching passes, Pine Bluff can probably live with that. In the first game, Waldrum had 190 passing yards total in the game meaning only 61 yards didn’t go to Owens. Of those 61 yards, 40 went to Dadraques Harris, 18 went to Kawon Love and 3 went to Willis. The El Dorado receivers dropped a lot of passes in that first game, but Pine Bluff would still probably feel good if it kept their production down under 100 total yards.

4. Can the Pine Bluff kickoff coverage team do its job?

OK, so this technically doesn’t fall under defense, but it might as well. In El Dorado’s seven-point win, Pine Bluff allowed Willis to return the second half kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. The extra point tied the game and Pine Bluff would never lead again. Early in the season, particularly against Lake Hamilton, Pine Bluff struggled covering kicks, but changes implemented since that time have led to just one notable long return — the game-changer by Willis. If the kickoff coverage team can force El Dorado to drive 75 to 80 yards, the Pine Bluff defense would be very appreciative.