Special to The Commercial/Bo Rogers
Joshua Liddell (12) and Dollarway will play their biggest regular-season game of the season tonight in Stuttgart.
For the Dollarway Cardinals, the trick this week has been to keep any emotions surrounding tonight’s game against the Stuttgart Ricebirds in check.
“Right now, I’m still in cruise mode, but my fire is burning inside,” Dollarway coach Cortez Lee said. “We really need this one for our program. I think the guys deserve it because they are a good group and they work real hard. Personally, for me, I want this real bad.”
This is the most important regular-season game in Lee’s five seasons as the head coach. His team is ranked third in 4A by Hootens.com with 7-0 overall and 4-0 2-4A Conference records. Stuttgart is No. 1 with the same records.
It’s next-door conference partners going at it — for the first time as conference partners since 1988. It’s a rematch of last year’s 4A second-round playoff, won by Dollarway 26-23 on same field of battle as tonight’s, Ned Moseley Stadium.
The winner will take the outright lead in the conference. If the Cards win, they will have beaten the Ricebirds a ninth straight time and made their case for No. 1.
But none of that is getting the Cards over-excited.
“Even though it’s a big game, you still have to stay calm,” junior wide receiver/cornerback Kabion Ento said. “They have a lot going down there. This could be the conference championship game, but at the same time, we have to be level-headed. If we get too hype, we’ll probably get distracted. If we come in not willing to play, they’ll run over us.”
Lee has addressed the emotion factor with his team this week, knowing a laid-back attitude is not the answer.
“This game is played on Friday, so to pour everything into Monday and Tuesday and be physically drained Friday kind of takes away from it,” he said. “Just trying to keep that even keel.”
The Cards have tried to be that way even in games where they were expected to blow out the opposition. They’ve only played two games decided by 10 points or less, including a 24-14 escape of Lonoke last Friday in which they struggled to score in nine trips to the red zone.
Dollarway averages 40.8 points per game — about three points better than Stuttgart — doing most of its damage in the run game like the Ricebirds. With Xavier Long healthy again at quarterback, classmate Jeremiah Long and a loaded backfield will take their best shot against a defense that has allowed only 100.0 rushing yards per game.
Whether both teams will get their passing games going against each other remains to be seen. But Ento is one of Long’s most dangerous targets and is solid at shutting down the pass on defense along with senior Tracy Smith Jr.
Ento realizes this is a deep Ricebirds team he and Cards are facing tonight.
“They have a lot more athletes than the other teams we’ve played,” he said. “They’re going to have more threats that we need to look out for.”