The Stuttgart Ricebirds are trying to accomplish something they haven’t done in 10 years – reach the state finals.
But first, they will have to get past the undefeated Prairie Grove Tigers, who are coming off back-to-back come-from-behind wins in the playoffs.
“We are not going to do anything different from our normal,” Stuttgart head coach Billy Elmore said. “We will just have to adjust to what they do and proceed on.”
Prairie Grove defeated Nashville 41-34 in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A state playoffs last week.
It was the second time in two weeks that Prairie Grove (12-0) won after trailing in the fourth quarter. The Tigers also rallied from a two-touchdown deficit to defeat Pottsville 34-28 in the second round.
“They are a good football program,” Elmore said. “They have ability to run and throw. Anytime a team can do it, it is tough to stop.”
Prairie Grove quarterback Cooper Winters threw four touchdown passes last week.
“A lot of his passes are deep and he does a good job throwing and his receivers do a good job of catching,” Elmore said. “Hopefully we can get defenders in position to not let that happen.”
Stuttgart (12-1) rolled up 425 offensive yards and allowed only 162 yards in their 27-6 win against Warren.
Warren sophomore running back Kilay Cox entered last week with 1,538 rushing yards but managed just 56 yards on 14 carries in the quarterfinal game.
“Defensively, our kids have really been stepping up and playing,” Elmore said. “There is no doubt about that. They do what we ask them to do and are playing aggressive.”
Elmore said to hold Warren’s offense to basically zero points, means “we are doing something good defensively.”
“Hopefully, we can do it again (tonight),” Elmore said.
Last week, Stuttgart’s Dre’lon Ice rushed for 129 yards on 10 carries. Quarterback Dontrell Brown finished the game with 125 yards on 23 carries and was 7 of 10 passing for 87 yards.
“We try to establish the run and play action off the run,” Elmore said. “That is our game plan as we go on this week.”
Stuttgart won a state championship in 2002 under coach Bobby Bolding, but Elmore said the expectations on this team haven’t been any higher than they are anywhere else.
“Stuttgart football has been successful before but they aren’t expecting every year,” Elmore said. “Good football is nothing new to Stuttgart.
“We just hope to carry on that long standing tradition.”
Elmore added that although there is something to said about the bonding experience shared when playing on the road, he is glad this game is at home.
“To not have to step off the bus and play and not have to make that trip is something to be happy about,” Elmore said. “We know our fan base will follow us anywhere, but I’d rather play at home.”
On the other side of the ball, Prairie Grove has never won a state championship.
Prairie Grove (13-0) at Stuttgart (12-1)
• 7 p.m. today at Ned Moseley Stadium, Stuttgart
• Seeds: Prairie Grove 1-4A champion; Stuttgart 2-4A champion
• Last week: Prairie Grove def. Nashville 41-34; Stuttgart def. Warren 27-6
• Championship: Winner will play Ozark or Highland on Dec. 8 at War Memorial Stadium, Little Rock