STUTTGART – In the rubber match of a long series, the Stuttgart Ricebirds defeated the Warren Lumberjacks 27-6 in the quarterfinal match of the Class 4A state football playoffs.
“Obviously when you beat a program with the tradition and history of Warren, it is a big win,” Stuttgart head coach Billy Elmore said after his team took a 10-9 all-time series lead over Warren.
With the win, the Ricebirds (12-1) advance to next week’s semifinal game against Prairie Grove, a 41-34 winner over Nashville.
Warren (9-4) threatened to score late in the third quarter, but a fumble recovery by Stuttgart’s Dominique Criner all but sealed the win for the Ricebirds.
Trailing 13-6 with 2 minutes left in the third quarter, the Lumberjacks took over with the ball on their side of the field. Thanks in part to 13- and 15-yard pass completions by quarterback Michael Jones, the Lumberjacks were able to move the ball to their opponents’ 4-yard line.
After a holding call, the ball was moved back to the 15. On the next play, Jones fumbled near the sideline and Criner was able to recover for the Ricebirds.
“That was a big play,” Elmore said. “It was just like theirs in the first half. They were able to score off theirs.
“I knew as long as the ball stayed in bounds, it would give our kids time to pursue the ball and create that turnover.”
Three plays later, senior running back Dre’lon Ice scored on a 65-yard touchdown to give Stuttgart a 21-6 lead with 9:14 left in the game.
“Our running game starts with our offensive line,” Elmore said. “They created good holes for us and we were able to move the ball and do a lot of different things.
“We were able to establish what we wanted to do.”
In the first half, senior quarterback Dontrell Brown had 81 yards on 12 carries and was 5 of 7 passing for 44 yards. Luster had 31 yards on eight carries and Ice had 53 yards on six carries in the first half.
The Lumberjacks’ only score came near the end of the first half.
With less than a minute left, the Ricebirds were threatening to score and take a two-score lead. But a fumble by junior running back Tyler Luster was scooped up by Warren’s Odis Miller and taken 92 yards for a touchdown.
A missed extra point kept the score 7-6 with about 25 seconds left in the first half.
“I thought we were about to go up 14-0, but we fumbled and they scooped and scored,” Elmore said. “They had all the momentum at that point.”
During halftime, Elmore stressed the importance of not “shooting ourselves in the foot,” and holding on to the ball. Stuttgart dominated the first half, but because of penalties and turnovers it had failed to score.
On their opening drive, the Ricebirds had the ball inside their opponents’ 30. Stuttgart was able to convert on a third-and-8 situation, but a holding call negated the play and forced the Ricebirds into a third-and-17. Back-to-back incomplete passes gave the ball to Warren.
Brown scored again for the Ricebirds in the fourth quarter.
After a turnover downs by Warren thanks to the defensive pressure by Stuttgart, Brown scored from 21 yards out to give the Ricebirds a 27-6 lead with 7:43 left in the game.