Playoffs start tonight for local football teams.
The last time El Dorado beat Pine Bluff in football was in the 2013 6A state championship game at War Memorial Stadium. Since the Wildcats’ 31-24 win, the Zebras avenged the defeat with wins in 2014 (38-19) and 2015 (34-27).
Tonight at Memorial Stadium, one of the state’s longest rivalries resumes in the first round of the 6A state playoffs. Call it the MASH Bowl as both teams have been hammered by injuries and will have several starters on the sideline.
Pine Bluff brings a deceptive 4-5-1 record into the game. That includes a four-game losing skid, snapped last week in a 28-8 win over Jacksonville.
“They had some guys hurt at that time and they lost a few close games. They had a hard time scoring,” said El Dorado coach Scott Reed. “In Week 9 and 10, they were a lot better. They got beat by one at West Memphis, who’s undefeated. And then they beat Jacksonville pretty good last week. It looks to me like they’ve gotten a little healthier. I think they’re good.
“Early in the year, they were picked to win that conference. He thought he had a good chance to win it. And then he got some kids hurt. They are talented.”
Neither team’s season-opening starting quarterback will play tonight. El Dorado’s Wanya Frazier, a receiver two weeks ago, will make his second start at quarterback. The position-switch, necessitated by injuries to Alex Hicks and Stuart Bower, further depleted the Wildcats’ receiving corps.
Reed said Shun Levingston is out with a broken foot. Steven Tollette is out with a broken collarbone. Hunter Dear is also out for the season.
“Devunte Kidd had an MRI on his knee. We’re afraid he might
have a meniscus problem. It looks like all three wide receivers are out,” said Reed. “Alex Boone (tight end) might have the flu. We hope he will be O.K. by Friday. That’s where we are.”
The injuries to El Dorado’s receivers was almost comical to Reed, who laughed as he searched for a silver lining.
“They’re not going to know who to expect, I guarantee you that,” he said. “We have (Derek) Jobe and Trey Norman and we’re working some kids that are defensive players to go both ways some. We’re trying to do a lot of teaching this week.”
Sophomore Jarmel Love could get his first varsity start at the X position.
“He’s had a good week. I’m pleased with him,” Reed said.
As Reed said, the Zebras appear to be getting healthier. After going 1-1-1 in non-conference with the win via forfeit against Springdale Har Ber, Pine Bluff opened league play with wins over Sylvan Hills (14-3) and Mountain Home (35-9) before falling to Jonesboro (2912), Searcy (30-24), Marion (28-20) and West Memphis (24-23).
“They’re physical. They have a really good athlete in (6-3, 160) Berkarion Black, number six. He plays corner, wide receiver, cornerback. He can run. He’s a good player. And, they’re physical up front,” said Reed, who said Black only plays quarterback occasionally.
“They bring him in at certain times in kind of a run package. He’s their best receiver, also. He took a hitch screen about 70 yards against West Memphis.”
It’s been awhile since El Dorado has seen Pine Bluff. Reed said the Zebras haven’t changed much.
“They’re in the gun. They run a lot of the power-read stuff, downhill run at you and some inside iso and a little counter and play-action off of it. They’ll throw the screen game stuff, quick screens,” he said.
Pine Bluff’s defensive base is out of a 4-3 alignment.
“They play a lot more man coverage than they have in the past. They’re athletic and they can run,” said Reed. “They run really well in the secondary. They’re good up front. They have a sophomore (defensive) tackle to keep an eye on. I think he has a chance to be really good. His name is Quentin Johnson, about 6-feet, 307. He doesn’t look 307. He moves really well. They’re good sized. They’ve played pretty well defensively.”
El Dorado (5-5) is coming off a shutout win at Little Rock Hall with Frazier completing 3-of-6 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. But, with the injuries on the perimeter, the Wildcats will have to find a way to move the chains on the ground.
“We don’t need to turn the ball over. I worry about that when you’ve got guys playing positions they’re not used to playing against a team like this. You want to make sure you execute and you don’t turn the ball over,” said Reed. “Our offensive line needs to play real well and carry us. We need to be able to run the ball.
“We need to play well defensively. I think we’re getting better there. I think we have an advantage in the kicking game as far as kicking field goals. If we can just keep them out of the end zone, they go for two a lot. We need to make them earn what they get.”
In an effort to increase depth, Reed said he moved up a few ninth graders from El Dorado’s unbeaten freshman team.
The infusion of youth spiced up practices this week. But, Reed isn’t sure if the youngsters will be a factor tonight.
“I don’t know. I wouldn’t think this week they would be. But, they’re doing a good job. They’re working hard in practice. I moved a few up because we’re shorthanded at a couple of positions. There are a number in that ninth grade group that are really good players,” said Reed, who said practices were a bit different.
“We’re having to work kids both ways. We probably can’t do as much because of all the teaching. You want them to be able to execute what they’re doing. But, the kids are practicing well. Some of the guys are excited about playing some both ways. Attitude is really good. There’s going to be a lot of new faces playing. I hope we’re able to execute and we do a good job with the ball.”
New faces in different places, the Wildcats will take the field still expecting to win. Despite the roster changes, Reed was upbeat about the playoffs.
“We’ve got a bunch of kids who are excited about being in the playoffs,” he said. “We’ve been through a lot. Now, it’s one of those deals where you go week to week. You’ve got to win to keep going. I know we have a bunch that want to keep playing. I know we’ll give a good effort.”