Coleman wary as Jonesboro visits Pine Bluff

Jonesboro’s John Paul Pickens (left) heads for the end zone on an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown during the Hurricane’s 43-7 victory over Sheridan last week. Jonesboro travels to Pine Bluff tonight.

JONESBORO — Jonesboro coach Randy Coleman is aware of Pine Bluff’s record. He also knows the quality of the competition the Zebras have faced, the returning talent they have in key positions and the problems they gave the Hurricane last year.

And with those factors in mind, Coleman isn’t counting on an easy game as Jonesboro visits Pine Bluff tonight for a 6A-East conference contest.

“You’re going on the road to a school that everybody thinks is down, and when you look at everything that’s gone on with their schedule and the players they have, you know they’re not down,” Coleman said. “I’m not one of those who necessarily believes in the trap game, but if there was ever a trap game, this is it. They’re 1-3 and 0-2 in conference, and we’ve won two games in a row and now everybody is thinking we should just go in there and take care of business.”

The teams had similar records last year when Pine Bluff visited Jonesboro. Time ran out on the Zebras at the Jonesboro 24-yard line as the Hurricane escaped with a 34-33 victory.

Pine Bluff (1-3, 0-2 conference) hasn’t won since beating winless Watson Chapel 46-28 in the season opener. The Zebras have faced a tough slate since then with losses to Little Rock Parkview (47-0), Sylvan Hills (35-30) and El Dorado (70-38). El Dorado quarterback Sharmon Rester threw seven touchdown passes against Pine Bluff last week.

Coleman sees several familiar jersey numbers when he watches Pine Bluff on video.

“Their No. 1 receiver is back, their quarterback is back and their running back, who by the way just ran for 212 yards last week, is back. That’s the deal,” Coleman said. “Every playmaker with the exception of one, and that was a defensive tackle, they’re all back. I think Pine Bluff is one of those teams you would prefer to play early in the season, but late in the year they’re just going to keep getting better and better.”

Jonesboro (3-2, 2-0) is tied with Sylvan Hills and Searcy atop the 6A-East standings after beating El Dorado 31-20 and Sheridan 43-7 the last two weeks.

Senior quarterback Rykar Acebo completed 39 of 53 passes for 457 yards and six touchdowns, with no interceptions, in Jonesboro’s last two games combined. Acebo has completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,192 yards and 13 touchdowns for the season, with four interceptions.

“He’s playing really, really good football,” Coleman said.

Seniors Jesse Washington and Kavon Pointer are Jonesboro’s receiving leaders. Washington has caught 29 passes for 368 yards, while Pointer has 25 receptions for 340 yards.

Washington, Pointer and senior tight end Tyrin Ruffin have four touchdown receptions each. Junior running back Brock McCoy has 376 yards and five touchdowns rushing.

Coleman said the Hurricane was efficient offensively and played well defensively against Sheridan, holding the Yellowjackets under 200 yards. “It’s an offensive game anymore and if you can hold anybody under 200 yards, you’ve done very, very well,” Coleman said.

Senior safety John Paul Pickens leads the Hurricane with 43 tackles for the season and returned an interception for a touchdown last week. Senior linebacker Andre Reed has 36 tackles, including nine behind the line of scrimmage and five sacks, and he also has two interceptions. Senior cornerback Erik Wilson has intercepted three passes.

The Hurricane had never beaten the Zebras until posting a 41-34 victory in 2016. Jonesboro has defeated Pine Bluff in four of the last five meetings, including each of the last three.

Coleman said the Zebras use multiple offensive formations and, after last year’s meeting, he wonders if they might show the Hurricane something new.

“What you worry about, and what happened to us last year, is we practiced the things we saw on film and they came out in a variation of a formation, something we hadn’t seen,” he said. “When you’re facing a 1-3 football team who has talent but it just hasn’t been clicking for them, you wonder what they’re going to be in.”