This time of year is known for being a season of giving, but El Dorado is expecting Pine Bluff to play the role of Ebenezer Scrooge when the two teams clash on Saturday at War Memorial Stadium.
The 7A/6A-South rivals met earlier this season and the Zebras were in a giving mood. In the Oct. 25 contest at El Dorado’s Memorial Stadium, Pine Bluff had seven turnovers, including five lost fumbles, to ruin what was otherwise a pretty dominant performance in a 21-14 loss.
Wildcats head coach Scott Reed knows the Zebras won’t be nearly as generous come Saturday night.
“I know Pine Bluff, that was abnormal for them to turn it over like that, because they’ve been really good, too,” he said. “For some reason that night, we made plays when we had to.
“It won’t have any bearing on this one, I know, so it will be a whole new, different ballgame. We can’t go in there thinking we’re going to get seven turnovers, but at the same time I think we can play better in areas, too.”
El Dorado defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson feels the same way.
“We came out and played hard that week,” the senior said. “We had not had the best season before that and came out and played hard against Lake Hamilton (the week before).
“We knew we needed that win against Pine Bluff to get No. 1 in the 6A South, and we just came out and played as hard as we could.
“(On) defense, we forced seven turnovers — and I’m not expecting them seven turnovers this time — but we forced the seven turnovers the first time, and I’m expecting them to be a lot cleaner with the ball this time.”
In some ways, the win over Pine Bluff was a turning point for El Dorado, which began the year with losses to Camden Fairview, Fort Smith Southside and Little Rock Central. The Wildcats entered the game with the Zebras at 3-4, but with the win went to 4-1 in conference play en route to a No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
“We were not very good early in the year, our kids would tell you,” Reed said. “We started 0-3, but the older ones they had been a part of getting it done.
“Especially these seniors, they won a title as sophomores and came close last year. … Our seniors wouldn’t give in and when it turned (around) it became a lot of fun.”
Jackson, who Rivals.com has as a four-star prospect and ranks as the top player in Arkansas, thinks the tough nonconference schedule helped the Wildcats immensely.
“Those three losses probably helped us more than playing any other teams,” said the Arkansas verbal commit. “… Even though, we lost the first three games, it helped us get better and helped us improve.
“It helped us get to this point.”
In the teams’ first matchup, Pine Bluff outgained El Dorado in total offensive yards 389 to 252, including a 286-73 edge in rushing. And even with all their turnovers, the Zebras had an opportunity to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.
Pine Bluff took over at its own 10-yard line with 2:33 left in regulation. On the opening play of the series, sophomore quarterback Ladarius Skelton, who had two interceptions and four of the five lost fumbles, found junior Tyran Simmons for a first down. But the drive stalled as Skelton was tackled for a 3-yard gain on a fourth-and-5 play from his own 25.
“We were very fortunate to win,” Reed said. “You look at the total yards and all that, and they wore us out.
“But the good teams we’ve had in the past have been good with the ball and I don’t think we turned it over any that night. That’s our M.O.
“In fact, I think Clayton (Waldrum), our quarterback, has 28 touchdown passes and just five interceptions this year, and that’s kind of indicative of how we’ve been when we’ve been good.“
Waldrum knows the Wildcats’ offense must play better on Saturday if they are to win their fourth state championship in the last five years.
“Obviously when you see someone, it’s harder to beat them the second time,” the senior said. “They had seven turnovers. We’re going to have to execute a lot better, only putting 21 (points) on the board.
“And we know that and we’re just going to prepare for that.”
Jackson said he’s confident in the offense’s ability to get that done, but knows the defense will be expected to step up as well.
“Defense has got to come and play all out,” he said. “They’ve got a big offensive line, really good tough running backs, and we know that the defense, especially up-front, will have to play probably better than we have all season.
“Offense has been playing lights out in the playoffs and I have all the confidence in them to help us get the win.”