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Pine Bluff entered Friday's 6A-East Conference game at defending Class 6A state champion Searcy knowing it could win.

On Oct. 9, Pine Bluff lost at Jonesboro 34-33 and Zebras Coach Rod Stinson said his team was able to leave that game with the thought that they could win some games this season despite their 1-3 record after the loss.

"It gave us a lot of confidence," Stinson said. "It let them know that we can be successful."

Stinson's belief proved prophetic.

The Zebras (2-3, 1-2 6A-East Conference) used a 19-point second quarter and took down Searcy (4-3, 3-1) 32-21.

Pine Bluff outgained Searcy 426-231. Sophomore quarterback William Howell completed 16 of 26 passes for 230 yards with 3 touchdowns and also had a rushing touchdown to lead the Zebras.

"Offensively, being consistent was the key," Stinson said. "We were able to move the ball down the field. We didn't have any turnovers."

The Zebras trailed 7-0 after the first quarter. But they were able to take a 19-7 lead in the second quarter with three touchdown passes by Howell. Senior Avante McDonald's 9-yard scoring reception tied the game at 7-7, then Howell threw two touchdown passes of 26 and 7 yards to freshman wide receiver Courtney Crutchfield to give Pine Bluff a 19-7 advantage at halftime.

Pine Bluff extended its lead to 32-14 with 5:17 left to play on Howell's 1-yard touchdown run.

Crutchfield led Pine Bluff's receivers with 4 receptions for 104 yards and 2 touchdowns.

The Zebras host Marion on Friday. Stinson, a longtime assistant for former coach Bobby Bolding until he was promoted to head coach in 2019, said the Zebras have the potential to be one of the best teams in Class 6A again, as they were in 2014 and 2015 when they won the state championship.

"We've got a ways to go," Stinson said. "But we're going in the right direction. Our guys saw those teams win, but they didn't know the process. They know now what it's going to take."

Improved Panthers

Ashdown Coach Matt Richardson calls himself a 2-8 coach.

That was the Panthers' record from the 2019 season.

However, in 2020, Ashdown is better than 2-8. In fact, it's turned into one of the state's most surprising stories.

The Panthers (6-1, 3-1 4A-7 Conference) earned their biggest victory of the season Friday night with a 26-24 win over No. 1 Nashville (4-2, 2-1) at home.

With about 5 minutes left and trailing 24-20, junior quarterback Alex Kielbach threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Jacolby Williams to give the Panthers a 26-24 lead.

Nashville was in position to win the game late, but a 40-yard field goal attempt by Obed Aguilar went wide left to give Ashdown the victory.

Richardson was relieved to see the Panthers beat the Scrappers.

"Thank Jesus," Richardson said. "Without God, we don't beat them. But every time they scored, our kids countered.

"We got down 24-20. Our kids were like, okay, whatever. Our kids have no quit. They had belief they could win."

Williams caught two touchdown passes from Kielbach. Jonathan McElroy and Jaxon Jester also had rushing touchdowns.

It was Ashdown's first victory over Nashville since 2013.

"It was huge," Richardson said. "I told our kids, this isn't about you or us five coaches. I had texts all day saying, 'Go get 'em!' 'Win it for me.' 'Win it for everybody.'

"This is for everybody that has put on the Ashdown uniform. I told them, you don't understand what it does for the community for the next 365 days. It's our Super Bowl."

Richardson had a 24-hour rule for the Panthers to celebrate the victory over Nashville. The Panthers get back to work this week as they get ready to face Arkadelphia at home Friday.

In a season that's seen every 4A-7 Conference team lose, Richardson understands how competitive the league is once again in 2020.

"Every week, you never know who is going to win," Richardson said. "We have a tough game with Arkadelphia. I'm just glad it's another home game for us."

Rank 'em

For the second time in as many weeks, there will be a new No. 1 team in Class 4A

Shiloh Christian takes over as Class 4A's top team after a 58-21 victory at Gentry on Friday night.

Nashville, which was ranked No. 1 this past week for the first time in 2020, fell at Ashdown 26-24. The Scrappers had taken over the top spot after earning a 36-35 victory over previous No. 1 Joe T. Robinson at home.

In the overall top 10, Bentonville West drops out. The Wolverines lost to Springdale Har-Ber 33-17 on Friday night.

Springdale Har-Ber is in the Class 7A Super Six for the first time this season.

The Wildcats are 3-4 overall, but are 3-1 in the 7A-West Conference. Also, they played one of the state's toughest nonconference schedules with North Little Rock, Greenwood and Jenks, Okla.

Wynne is the newest team in the overall top 10, joining the rankings at No. 10. The Yellowjackets (7-0) dispatched rival Batesville 49-20 on Friday night.

Other new teams in the rankings this week include Morrilton (No. 6 in Class 5A) and Ashdown (No. 6 in Class 4A).

Looking ahead

The ninth week of the high school football season brings some key matchups that could help determine conference championships.

The top two teams in Class 6A meet at Smith-Robinson Stadium in Greenwood on Friday.

Class 6A No. 1 Greenwood faces No. 2 Benton in a 6A-West Conference showdown. Benton won last year's matchup in Saline County on its way to winning the 6A-West title. There is little doubt that the Bulldogs would like to avenge that loss as they attempt to be the league's No. 1 seed.

In Class 5A, No. 1 Pulaski Academy and No. 3 Little Rock Christian meet at Little Rock Christian's Warrior Field in Little Rock.

Pulaski Academy has lost the past two regular-season matchups to Little Rock Christian, but won the Class 5A state championship last season at Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium.

In Class 4A, No. 1 Shiloh Christian heads to Elkins on Friday.

Shiloh Christian and Elkins are the last two undefeated teams in the 4A-1 Conference. The Saints have rolled in conference play, scoring at least 42 points in each of their four league victories.

Down in Class 2A, the 2A-5 Conference gets its battle of undefeated teams with Poyen (6-0, 2-0) traveling to Gurdon (5-1, 1-0).

Gurdon is ranked No. 2 in Class 2A, while Poyen is No. 5.

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