Stuttgart was able to earn the first-round bye after winning the 2-4A Conference and got a week off to get healthy again.
The Ricebirds (9-1) will need all of its players healthy when it faces Dardanelle’s potent offense. The Sand Lizards average 31.8 points per game.
“They have an offense that puts a lot of points on the board,” Stuttgart coach Billy Elmore said. “They are playing really good defense the last couple of weeks. Every week it’s a challenge.”
In four of the last five weeks, the Sand Lizards have given up 14 or fewer points. The lone exception was the 34 points Mena scored in the last week of the regular season. The Sand Lizards gave up an average of 15.2 points per game.
Elmore is confident that his team will be able to either run or pass on Dardanelle (9-2).
“Said it all along, you can take away one but you won’t take away both,” he said. “We want to take what they give us and we have to execute one or the other.”
Stuttgart’s offense, which averaged 34 points per game, will receive a boost as Dontrell Brown is fully healthy after dealing with an ankle injury.
“He’s had a few weeks that he could heal up and he is good to go,” Elmore said.
The two teams that stopped Dardanelle was Pottsville and Booneville, which held the Sand Lizards to 24 combined points.
The key to Dardanelle’s offense is running back Nick Hendrix, who scored four touchdowns in a first-round win over Pocahontas.
“Nobody has stopped him and he has done a good job of moving the ball,” Elmore said. “They have 1,000 different formations and a lot of times it’s the same play, they just try to get you in a vulnerable situation and we have to adjust and execute defensively.”
Malvern at Warren
Malvern played for a Class 4A state championship last season and while the Leopards are the No. 3 seed from their conference, they could be in a hunt for another spot in the title game.
Malvern will have to get by Warren on Friday and Lumberjacks coach Bo Hembree knows how tough of a test it will be.
“They have a lot of people back and this time of the year, it’s always going to be tough,” he said.
Malvern (9-2) was on a two-game losing streak before 48-7 win over Gosnell in the first round of the playoffs.
The Leopards are led by quarterback Austin Warford, who has rushed for 10 touchdowns and passed for 23.
“He is great at making people miss, so we have to tackle well,” Hembree said. “We won’t stop him, just hopefully contain him.”
Running back Tim Hardimon has always rushed for almost 1,100 yards this season for Malvern.
“They have two guys back there that are very good,” Hembree said. “Take one away and the other one can hurt you. Just play gap control and make sure we tackle them.”
Warren (8-3) counters with its own talented running back in Kilay Cox, who has rushed for 1,463 yards and 19 touchdowns. Drake Jones will start at quarterback for the Lumberjacks.
“Drake had a great game last week and he is a great player,” Hembree said. “We have to rally around him.”
Earle at McGehee
Last year, McGehee coach Marcus Haddock wanted nothing to do with a first-round bye. This year, he embraced it with open arms. What a difference a year makes.
“The bye week was very useful and we have everyone back to full speed,” Haddock had. “Last year, I didn’t want anything to do with it because we had some momentum and we were healthy. This year it was a little different because of the injuries.”
The Owls (9-1) need to be healthy as they face Earle (7-4) running back Autry Allen, who rushed for 357 yards and five touchdowns last week. For his career, Allen has rushed for 6,618 yards and 88 touchdowns.
“That amount of yards is phenomenal and hope we can keep him contained,” Haddock said. “Just get hats on him and wait for the cavalry. He is the real package and he can run for speed and power. … Tough to stop him.”
McGehee has its own backs that Earle will have to deal with — Steven King, David Shepard, Maurice Hudson and Roger Blackmon.
“We are very blessed to have four good running backs,” Haddock said. “King and Shepard are our thunder and lighting. Just hope the good Lord keeps us healthy and help us finish through this playoff run.”
Fordyce at Charleston
It is a rematch of last year’s playoff game, which Charleston (9-1) won 21-0 before winning the Class 3A title.
“We had a bad experience last year with them,” Fordyce coach Tim Rodgers said. “They don’t beat themselves and we have to cut down on our mistakes.”
The game could come down to the battle of the quarterbacks. Fordyce’s Cole Johnson has passed for 2,182 yards and 30 touchdowns. Charleston’s Ty Storey has passed for 3,661 yards and 42 touchdowns.
“He is a really good quarterback is suppose to be a Division I prospect,” Rodgers said. “Working a lot on getting the pass rush on them because if he gets time to stand back there, he will rip us apart.”
Charleston is missing nine starters on defense from last year’s team, so Fordyce (8-3) could be able to attack the different starters.
“We are going to try and get the ball to the corners and throw the ball down the field,” Rodgers said. “We have a bit more speed so we are going to try and take advantage. If we can get our players in space, we think we can get them that way.”