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Zebras ride tradition into title game

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Photographs by Staton Breidenthal

Pine Bluff Coach Bobby Bolding is shown in this photo.

Pine Bluff Coach Bobby Bolding referred to Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium as Jordan North on Twitter earlier this week.

For the Zebras, War Memorial is the Zebras’ home away from Jordan Stadium and they’ll make the approximate 50-minute drive from Jefferson County to the Class 6A state championship game for the sixth time since Bobby Bolding became the school’s head coach in 2007, taking on Greenwood.

This time around, though, the Zebras are entering the title game with a team that Bolding was not expecting to see still playing in the final week of the 6A season.

“We’re having a lot of fun,” Bolding said. “We don’t have any superstars. It’s like the ultimate team. They have soaked up coaching and wanted to get better.”

Pine Bluff (11-1), the 6A-East Conference’s No. 1 seed, has won 11 consecutive since a 20-12 loss to Cabot in the season opener Sept. 1 at Jordan Stadium. The Zebras defeated Searcy 34-14 in the Class 6A semifinals last Friday, earning their second victory over the Lions this season.

Sophomore quarterback Tyler Foots, 5-foot-9, 189 pounds, has accounted for more than 2,400 yards, including 1,600 passing.

“He’ll still make sophomore mistakes,” Bolding said. “He tries to make a play.

“But he makes plays. We’ve put a lot on a sophomore. He can run and throw it.”

Foots is complemented by junior running back Braylon Moody (5-9, 180) and senior wide receiver Jyrimee Thompson (5-9, 152).

Defensively, the Zebras have allowed 16.1 points per game, with senior linebackers Martavis Thompson (5-11, 216) and Isiah Singleton (5-11, 215) leading the unit.

It’s a team that Bolding, who has won state championships at Pine Bluff (2014, 2015) and Stuttgart (2002), is proud of.

“They want to do things right,” Bolding said. “They’re not as big or as fast as we’ve had before. They’ve worked hard. That’s fun as a coach.”

While Pine Bluff is younger than its past teams that have played in the Class 6A state championship game, Bolding believes the school’s tradition has helped them this season.

“We felt like that could help us get to the playoffs,” Bolding said. “We have tradition. We didn’t see winning a conference championship, being a No. 1 seed early in the year, but we kept getting better.

“I said, ‘Hey, this little bunch we have isn’t a bad football team. We could fool around and win some games.’ It’s been a lot of fun.

“There’s been no pressure this week.”

Greenwood (12-0), the No. 1 seed from the 6A-West, is in its third consecutive state championship game, having lost to Pine Bluff in 2015 and Russellville last season. Senior quarterback Connor Noland (205-of-296 passing, 2,494 yards, 31 touchdowns, 5 interceptions), senior running back Kenny Wood (234 carries, 1,617 yards, 27 touchdowns) and junior wide receiver Peyton Holt (87 receptions, 1,154 yards, 15 touchdowns) have the attention of Bolding.

“Their offense is the most talented group I’ve seen this year,” Bolding said. “They’re very balanced. That makes it hard on the defense.”

Jon Womack, a senior defensive tackle, leads the Bulldogs with 11 1/2 sacks, anchoring a strong defensive line.

“They’re really good up front,” Bolding said. “They look the part. They’re 6-2, 270, 280, 290. They’re good football players. They’re not just bodies. Their linebackers fly around. Their secondary can run.”

Pine Bluff has won 23 state championships overall and seven since the modern playoff era began in 1968. Adding another state title to the Zebras’ program would mean a lot to the players, Bolding said.

“It is our goal every year to get there,” Bolding said. “Working hard, being consistent and making sacrifices, there is a reward to that if you stick it out.”

Class 6A championship at a glance

GREENWOOD (12-0)

DATE OPPONENT RESULT Sept. 1 FS Northside W, 34-7 Sept. 8 FS Southside W, 49-0 Sept. 15 at Alma W, 54-28 Sept. 22 at Texarkana W, 38-17 Sept. 29 El Dorado W, 52-21 Oct. 6 Siloam Springs W, 38-0 Oct. 13 at Russellville W, 38-13 Oct. 20 at Benton W, 33-17 Oct. 27 Sheridan W, 54-0 Nov. 3 at Lake Hamilton W, 45-17 Nov. 17 Texarkana# W, 38-0 Nov. 24 West Memphis# W, 45-14 6A-West game #Playoff game

COACH Rick Jones (162-23 in 14th year at school)

MASCOT Bulldogs

CONFERENCE 6A-West

RECORD 12-0, 7-0 6A-West, first

RANKING No. 1 in Class 6A

PLAYERS TO WATCH QB Connor Noland (Sr., 6-2, 195); RB Kenny Wood (Sr., 5-11, 192); WR Peyton Holt (Jr., 5-9, 177); OL/DL Jon Womack (Sr., 6-1, 280); LB Nick Vota (Sr., 5-10 195)

PINE BLUFF (11-1)

DATE OPPONENT RESULT Sept. 1 Cabot L, 20-12 Sept. 8 at Watson Chapel W, 43-7 Sept. 15 FS Northside W, 14-7 Sept. 22 LR Hall W, 60-6 Sept. 29 at Mountain Home W, 36-14 Oct. 6 Jonesboro W, 48-34 Oct. 13 Searcy W, 57-34 Oct. 20 at Marion W, 41-12 Oct. 27 West Memphis W, 33-7 Nov. 2 at Jacksonville W, 53-18 Nov. 17 Russellville# W, 40-21 Nov. 24 Searcy# W, 34-14 6A-East game #Playoff game

COACH Bobby Bolding (102-34-2 in 11th season at school)

MASCOT Zebras

CONFERENCE 6A-East

RECORD 11-1, 7-0 6A-East, first

RANKING No. 2 in Class 6A

PLAYERS TO WATCH QB Tyler Foots (So., 5-9, 189); RB Braylon Moody (Jr., 5-9, 180); LB Martavis Thompson (Sr., 5-11, 216); LB Isiah Singleton (Sr., 5-11, 215); FS Rod Stinson Jr.

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