A 7A/6A-South conference championship and playoff seeding are just two of the reasons Hootens.com has tabbed Friday night’s Pine Bluff-El Dorado matchup its 6A Game of the Week.
Even still, Pine Bluff (4-2-1, 3-1) head coach Bobby Bolding said he isn’t focusing on either a conference championship or a high playoff seed as his team prepares to travel to El Dorado (3-4, 3-1) to play the Wildcats at 7 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.
“What’s important for us is that we improve again,” Bolding said. “… Our teams in our conference tend to do well in the playoffs regardless of seeding.
“Our goal is to continue to improve so that we’re peaking at the right time of the year, which would be in the playoffs.
“Would we like to win a conference championship? Yes, but we would like to win a state title more.”
Friday’s game will go a long way towards determining whether Pine Bluff is able to repeat as conference champions with the matchup featuring two of the five co-leaders of the conference. Of the other three first-place teams, Lake Hamilton and Benton will face each other, while Bryant will face Texarkana, which is in sixth place but did beat El Dorado two weeks ago.
Aside from their setback against the Razorbacks, the Wildcats have rebounded nicely after going 0-3 in nonconference play with losses to Camden Fairview, Fort Smith Southside and Little Rock Central.
Last week, El Dorado shocked Lake Hamilton knocking the Wolves from atop the conference standings. Lake Hamilton, which was coming off a 33-25 win over Pine Bluff, became the last conference team to lose after El Dorado’s 44-34 win.
The Wildcats actually had a 22-point lead late in the third quarter before the Wolves comeback attempt fell short. In the contest, senior quarterback Clayton Waldrum had over 250 yards passing and four touchdowns (one rushing). Fellow senior Jaqualoyn Willis picked up almost 150 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown to go with an interception return for a touchdown.
On the season, Waldrum has racked up 1,361 yards through the air and 16 TDs to just two picks. His go-to receiver so far has been classmate Ty Owens who has over 600 yards and 10 TDs.
According to Bolding, El Dorado’s offense was able to exploit the Lake Hamilton the same way his team did in the second half of their game with the Wolves.
“They must have seen our game tape,” Bolding said. “They did the same thing we were able to do.
“They beat Lake Hamilton by throwing it over the top of the defense.”
Bolding said he won’t change his coverage packages, but did say his safeties will “have to be aware of not letting passes get over their heads.”
“We have to not get beat deep,” Bolding said. “They are an inexperienced team and with inexperienced teams you want them to have to drive the ball against you.”
Last year, Pine Bluff topped El Dorado 21-6, but both teams have several new faces this year.
“They start some sophomores,” Bolding said. “But mostly they start older, but inexperienced players.”
Some of that youth might have shown through when the Razorbacks beat the Wildcats 23-20 just two weeks after losing to the Zebras, 28-13.
Despite their inexperience, Bolding said the Wildcats are still as tough as ever.
“It’s the same old El Dorado football teams we’ve been playing,” he said.
As for his team, Bolding said he was very pleased with how his starters played in limited action in last week’s 35-8 win over Little Rock Fair.
Pine Bluff ‘s offense, so far, has relied heavily on its four talented runners coming out of the backfield in quarterback Ladarius Skelton and running backs Trevor Hunt, Kentorious White and Romar Reades. All four of them had a rushing touchdown in the Zebras’ win over the War Eagles last week.
The key has been keeping them all healthy.
“Considering how tough our first six opponents were it was huge to be able to have that depth,” Bolding said. “We’ve just got to keep them healthy and get them to the playoffs so we can let them loose.”
However, a potent rushing attack has its downside. After a couple of games, Pine Bluff began to face more and more defensive formations with nine defensive players focused on stopping the run.
That is why Bolding said the emergence of junior Tyran Simmons might be a game-changer in more ways than one.
“Simmons has really helped us,” Bolding said. “We finally found us a deep threat.
“With him out there the safeties haven’t come down so hard (to stop the run) and it’s also opened up underneath stuff for Tyler Bell and (Will) Gragg.”