Marco Lara (left) and Courtney Carroll, pictured trying to bring down Prairie Grove’s Logan Bartholomew on Nov. 30, hope to make Stuttgart’s defense successful against Ozark tonight. (Special to The Commercial/Mike Adam)
Two powerhouse offenses will collide today when No.1 Stuttgart (12-1) faces No. 2 Ozark (12-2) for the Class 4A state championship at 6:30 p.m. at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
“We have just been practicing the fundamentals and trying to keep everything normal,” Ozark head coach Jeremie Burns said.
Ozark, which hasn’t made it to a state championship in 20 years, advance to the finals by defeating Highland 28-25 last week. Ozark lost to Dollarway in the 1992 AA state championship.
“It has been huge for this community,” Burns said. “We’ve had a couple of prep rallies, a barn fire on Thursday and signs up all over the place.
“A lot of people from the community and the state have called and sent letters, congratulating us. It has been a real good experience for us.”
Head coach Billy Elmore is no slouch when it comes to state championships, as he led the Glen Rose Beavers to a Class 3A state championship in 2007.
“I don’t know if it prepares you but it definitely gives you a pattern to follow,” Elmore said. “As far as getting the team ready, you kind of know what to expect.
“Each year it is a different set of kids, so you never know how it is going to go.”
Ozark quarterback Jonathon McKenzie has 165 carries for 1,241 yards with 20 touchdowns. He has also completed 92 of 201 passes for 1,674 yards with 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“He has been our starting quarterback for three years,” Burns said. “He is a great kid and a tough kid. He is one of the leaders on the team, especially on offense.”
Burns said McKenzie has been with the team since seventh grade.
“He has a good arm and has really worked hard,” Burns said. “He has been a good player for us the last three years.”
Elmore said he has not done anything special to prepare for McKenzie.
“He is a run-pass quarterback and he is definitely a threat,” Elmore said. “We will just have to do a good job with coverage and play consistently to try to keep that under control.”
Toby Richard, who missed about four games this season, has 29 catches for 736 yards with nine touchdowns for Ozark. Running back Bubba Elder has 161 carries for 1,036 yards with 18 touchdowns.
“We have been able to get our starters out of some ball games pretty early,” Burns said. “Usually we can pull starters by the third quarter.”
Burns knew back in the offseason that his offense would be something to watch.
“We looked at our offense and changed a few things to be able to spread the ball around,” Burns said. “We are blessed with multiple athletes and they are smart too.
“It has been a pleasure to have those guys on the team all three years.”
Stuttgart senior quarterback Dontrell Brown has 167 carries for 1,191 yards with 17 touchdowns. Brown has completed 88 of 153 passes for 1,519 yards with 16 touchdowns and two interceptions.
“We’ve watched him on film and have tried to simulate his speed in practice the best we can,” Burns said. “He is a phenomenal player and does a great job out there.”
Last year, Brown led the Ricebirds to a 9-3 record and a second-round playoff berth. He rushed for 403 yards and eight touchdowns and threw for 528 yards and nine touchdowns.
In 2012, junior Tyler Luster has 132 carries for 785 yards with 13 touchdowns.
Dre’lon Ice, a senior wide receiver, has 60 carries for 561 yards. He also has 28 catches for 497 yards with five touchdowns.
Stuttgart, which owns six state championships, earned the right to play for the state title by defeating Prairie Grove 32-15 last week at home.
“There is no doubt that our community is a football town. Football means everything in the world to this town,” Elmore said. “We don’t try to disguise it and we don’t apologize for it.”
Stuttgart piled up 443 yards in total offense against Prairie Grove. The Tigers were held to 132 total yards and managed just one offensive touchdown, after outscoring its previous two playoff opponents 75-62.
Elmore said it is a yearly goal to make it to the state championship, but obviously a goal that is not easily accomplished.
“This means the world to the town and Stuttgart takes great pride in our football program,” Elmore said.