Last week, the Pine Bluff Zebras failed to reach double digits for the first time this season after blowing four red zone opportunities over their game’s final 27 minutes.
Even still, Pine Bluff’s (3-1-1, 2-0 7A/6A-South) defense stepped up to help secure a 9-3 win over Bryant by pitching a second-half shutout.
The Zebras will have to improve in the red zone if they’re to end Lake Hamilton’s (4-1, 2-0) four-game winning streak when they play at 7 tonight in Pearcy.
Last week, the Zebras had little trouble moving the ball against the Hornets as they accumulated 277 yards on the ground, but they were only able to score one touchdown — a 16-yard run by sophomore wide receiver Kacy Higgins early in the second quarter.
Late in the first half, Pine Bluff running back Trevor Hunt was stuffed on fourth-and-goal, which became the first of four times the Zebras came up empty on red zone opportunities. In their three second-half red zone trips, the Zebras turned the ball over on downs, missed a 24-yard field goal and had another field goal try ruined by a bad snap.
After reviewing the film from last week’s win, Pine Bluff head coach Bobby Bolding said increasing his offense’s intensity in the red zone has been a focus this week.
“We gameplan every part of the field, but this week we definitely took extra time to work on our red zone offense,” Bolding said. “I think it really comes down to increasing our intensity level.”
Bolding felt like his team was unable to match Bryant’s defensive intensity once Pine Bluff got inside the Hornets’ 20-yard line.
“As a defense, the shorter the field gets the harder they’re going to play,” Bolding said. “And last week, we didn’t match their intensity level.”
Last year, Pine Bluff defeated Lake Hamilton 40-9 at Jordan Stadium, but this season’s matchup will likely be a much closer contest with Hootens.com predicting a three-point win for the Zebras in their 6A game of the week.
Last week, Lake Hamilton stayed unbeaten in conference play with a 37-15 win at Texarkana, which lost at Pine Bluff 28-13 the week before. Wolves senior quarterback Nathan Sawrie threw three touchdown passes in the game, including two to fellow senior Trevor Mittelstadt.
On the season, Sawrie has accounted for more than 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns but has also thrown seven interceptions, while Mittelstadt has 22 catches for 371 yards and three touchdowns. Wolves senior running back Chris Eastburn, who also caught a TD pass against the Razorbacks, has eight rushing touchdowns on the year.
Including their win over the Razorbacks, the Wolves have won their four games by an average of almost 24 points per game. Lake Hamilton’s only loss of the season was a 55-13 defeat week one at North Little Rock, which beat Pine Bluff 35-14 in a road game two weeks later.
Bolding expects the Wolves’ offense to run multiple formations, which is something he expected to see out of Bryant last week but didn’t really happen.
“We expect them to run every single formation that’s in football,” Bolding said. “You name a formation they run it. …
“Once they find a weakness, they are going to attack it and hit it.”
Being fundamentally sound will be key for a young Pine Bluff defense.
“Technique, technique, technique, technique,” Bolding said of how his defense will counter the Wolves’ offense. “With five sophomores starting we need them to be very disciplined.”