LITTLE ROCK – Stuttgart made its own breaks against Central Arkansas Christian in the First Security Kickoff Classic opener at War Memorial Stadium here Monday night, taking full advantage of a flurry of Mustang mistakes in a dizzying 49-22 victory.
The Ricebirds – coming off a 9-3 Class 4A playoff season – struggled early but became dominant down the stretch behind a determined defensive effort that left CAC fumbling and stumbling in a futile effort to regain its early mastery. It didn’t help the Mustangs when their highly-regarded quarterback, Jack Thomas, was forced out of the game with a second-period shoulder injury, the extent of which wasn’t known at press time.
CAC, which figures to be in the 4A playoff derby after a 5-5-1 effort in Class 5A last year, was impressive in its first possession. The Mustangs cruised 70 yards in a 15-play, 4:14 scoring march capped with a 13-yard touchdown run by Marquell Nelson. Beau Barnes’ first of two point-after kicks put CAC up by 7-0 midway though the first quarter.
A pair of Zach Pierce fumble recoveries over the next two series kept momentum on CAC’s side, but that would soon change. After an errant snap resulted in a 27-yard Mustang loss and a punt, Stuttgart knotted the score with a first-down, 48-yard scoring pass from quarterback Dontrell Brown to wide receiver John Curtis and a conversion kick by Jackson Kennedy. The TD came on Stuttgart’s first snap of the second quarter.
Curtis would be named the game’s most valuable player.
CAC responded with a 24-yard Thomas TD strike to Dylan Harris less than three minutes later and the Mustangs were ahead by 14-7. Stuttgart replied in lightning fashion as on the first play from scrimmage after the ensuing CAC kickoff, Ricebird running back Dre’lon Ice melted the Mustang defense with an 80-yard touchdown sprint. CAC held onto its 14-13 lead, however, when Stuttgart’s conversion kick was blocked.
Two plays later, however, Stuttgart grabbed its first lead when Curtis intercepted a pass from CAC reserve quarterback Chandler Hamilton and zipped 23 yards for a touchdown. Ice ran for two and the Ricebirds led 21-14 with 5:27 left before intermission. But the Mustangs weren’t quite out of gas and mustered enough power for another tally when third-string quarterback Chase Dowell sealed a briefly rain-hampered 14-play, 65-yard drive with a 2-yard TD splash. Dowell’s two-point conversion run gave CAC a 22-21 halftime advantage.
Stuttgart largely nailed CAC’s coffin shut in the third quarter when the Ricebirds claimed five turnovers.
Courtney Carroll picked off a Mustang pass four plays into the period. After a Stuttgart punt, CAC yielded possession again when Jackson Kennedy intercepted a hurried Mustang pass and returned it 48 yards to CAC’s 14-yard line. Running back Delondre Clinton soon moved the Ricebirds up to stay with a 5-yard touchdown run. Ice connected with Jack Braden on a conversion toss and Stuttgart led 29-22 with 5:52 remaining in the quarter.
Eighteen seconds later, Clinton grabbed a CAC fumble and scurried into the end zone from 9 yards out. Kennedy’s point-after kick deepened the Mustangs’ deficit to 36-22.
Less than a minute into the final round, Regan Counce struck paydirt on an 8-yard pass from Brown and Kennedy booted Stuttgart to a 43-22 command. Jake Dillingham iced the Ricebird win when he scooped up a Mustang bobble and returned it 4 yards for the game’s final points with just 10 seconds to play.
Stuttgart returns to action Sept. 7 at home against Valley View.