Prep Football

6A championship: Zebras win another state title, but not easily

When Pine Bluff and Greenwood finally met Saturday at War Memorial Stadium, it proved every bit as close as expected. But maybe not quite as exciting.

LITTLE ROCK — All anybody paying attention to Class 6A wanted to see all year was Pine Bluff-Greenwood.

When they finally met Saturday at War Memorial Stadium, it proved every bit as close as expected.

But maybe not quite as exciting.

The Zebras got their 23rd state championship with a 28-21 win that featured an exciting, action-packed first half followed by second half where neither team scored. It was the 10th state championship since 1951 and the sixth since the state adopted playoffs.

Longtime Zebra superfan Greg celebrates with the team after Pine Bluff's 23rd state championship.

Longtime Zebra superfan Greg celebrates with the team after Pine Bluff’s 23rd state championship.

It followed the script Pine Bluff has used most of the season and ended where things have been ending for the last four years.

And Bobby Bolding isn’t getting tired of it.

“Absolutely not,” he sad with a laugh when asked about the ridiculous notion he might be getting tired of all these championship game appearances. “We’re going to go to work tomorrow on the next one.”

He’ll have to do it without a group of seniors as talented and cohesive as any group that’s worn the stripes in a long, long time.

“It’s the only way they should go out,” Bolding said about the seniors. “They’ve been an unbelievable group from the seventh grade on. They were a blast to coach. They will be missed, but I think they’ve carved their mark in Pine Bluff football history.”

Putting up back-to-back titles for the first time in a couple of decades will leave a mark in the history books. And this one was done with defense in the second half.

“I thought our defense really played well, especially in the second half,” Bolding said. “They hit us deep early and we felt like they would at least once. They ran a little trick play on our sophomore corner over there. But he made another play back there later in the second half.

“We kinda tried to zero in on the run game and focus on that and take that out of their hands and force them to throw and rally to that.”

After a first half where both offenses moved up and down the field seemingly at will sometimes, the second half was a completely different story after some defensive adjustments on both sides of the ball, but the Zebras didn’t spend all of the halftime break on defense.

“We’re on a watch,” Bolding said later. “We split time at halftime. Defense comes in, then a coach comes in and yells “Time!” and then boom, it’s, “offense, you’re up!” It’s equal. I thought we made a couple of adjustments that helped and I thought our coaches did a real good job there. I just thought our kids played their butts off.”

The offenses finished fairly evenly with Greenwood have a slight edge in total offense (382-378). In the end, the matchup everyone wanted to see — Ladarius Skelton of Pine Bluff vs. Luke Hales of Greenwood turned out to be what was expected.

Skelton had 296 yards of total offense (164 on the ground) to Hales’ 242 (76 on the ground).

“Offensively we did enough,” Bolding said. “We didn’t really execute it well at times. We had too many penalties, were kinda sloppy, but some of that had to do with Greenwood. They have a good defense and they get after you.”

In the end, Skelton got the MVP.

“I just can’t say enough about his performance,” Bolding said later. “He’s just a competitor, just a fierce competitor, and he gets after it. He’s got a good offensive line and he trusts his teammates, but he’s a great ballplayer and we built our offense around him the last three years.”

Pine Bluff opened the game by stopping Greenwood, then driving 48 yards in three plays with Romar Reades getting the final 14 up the middle. Justin Williams added the point-after for a 7-0 lead with 9:27 to go in the first period.

Greenwood needed just 1:11 to tiel the game, Jordan Green scoring on a 5-yard run and Jarrod Cooper adding the extra point with 8:16 left in the first.

After a couple of defensive stops on both sides of the ball, the Zebras moved back out in front on a 7-yard pass from Skelton to David Beasley. Wilson’s kick provided a 14-7 lead with 3:42 left in the first.

The Bulldogs answered quickly, driving 64 yards in four plays with Garrett Collins sneaking behind the Zebras secondary for a 49-yard scoring pass from Hales. Cooper tied the game at 14-14 with 2:41 left in the first.

The second quarter was just as exciting, but it took a bit to get there as the defenses for both teams stepped up for the first half of the period.

Then Skelton broke free on a 73-yard run up the middle with 4:53 left and Williams kicked the Zebras into a 21-14 lead with 4:53 to go before half.

And, you guessed it, Greenwood needed just eight seconds following a 49-yard return by Grant Morgan of the Pine Bluff kick. Two plays later, Collins caught his second scoring pass, this time 28 yards from Connor Noland and Cooper’s extra point tied the game at 21-21 with 4:36 to go in the half.

That set up what proved to be the winning drive … in the second quarter.

And it was mostly Skelton.

On a third-and-10, he found Casey Higgins open for a 51-yard completion, then two plays later hit Higgins against for a 25-yard scoring play and Williams added the point-after for the final margin.

That was it for the offensive excitement.

At the end, the hyper Bolding was jumping to get back to War Memorial next year.

“We’ve got to go to work tomorrow to figure out what we’re going to do next year,” he said.

But first he’ll enjoy this one.

At least for a day or so.

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