Ricebirds top of the pecking order with win


STUTTGART — The argument is over: Stuttgart is still No. 1 in Class 4A.

Quarterback Dontrell Brown accounted for three touchdowns and Stuttgart held No. 3 Dollarway to fewer than 100 yards rushing Friday in a 24-14 victory, ending a long debate over 4A supremacy.

Brown was relieved the debate was finally settled.

“They were targeted in our conference on our schedule,” he said of Dollarway. “It’s a good win, good way to get the conference championship.”

But the championship isn’t wrapped up yet. Both teams have two games remaining in the regular season.

Still, the Ricebirds (8-0, 5-0 in 2-4A) prevailed in a game that was considered to be the biggest matchup in the 2-4A since it was announced that Dollarway (7-1, 4-1) would move into the conference. And they have the top ranking to show for it — even if it doesn’t mean much.

“I don’t know what it means,” Stuttgart coach Billy Elmore said. “We haven’t played Nashville. We haven’t played Malvern. We haven’t played Arkadelphia. We haven’t played those teams.

“I think we’ve proven we’re among the elite.”

The Cardinals emotionally took the loss hard, seeing their best chance at becoming No. 1 go for naught.

“We just go back to the drawing board and we work hard,” Dollarway coach Cortez Lee said. “It’s just a minor setback. It’s nothing to where your season is over. I think it will make us stronger.”

The Ricebirds played maybe their most balanced game on offense this season, gaining 160 rushing yards and getting 134 yards on 8-of-16 passing from Brown. He threw one touchdown pass to Dre’lon Ice just before halftime to put Stuttgart in the lead at 18-14.

“We had all the confidence in the world in Dontrell,” Elmore said. “We had seen some things we thought we could take advantage of earlier in the week, and we were able to do that. We don’t have a problem putting the game in Dontrell’s hands and letting him throw the ball.”

The pass came in handy for two teams not known for throwing the ball much. Dollarway earned most of its yards through the air, as Jeremiah Young completed 6 of 9 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns.

Xavier Long started at quarterback for the Cardinals, but Lee saw an advantage by lining Young up under center on pass plays.

“We noticed whenever we went empty (in the backfield) a few times, they gave us some favorable matchups,” Lee said. “That’s something I think we exploited on them. At the same time, we still didn’t come out and do what we’re known for doing.”

That would be controlling the clock and running the ball well, Lee explained.

Dollarway’s run game was slowed down. The Cardinals finished with 95 yards on the ground, never able to break the century mark.

“The biggest thing we had to do was key where (Long) was at,” Elmore said. “There’s no doubt about that. We had to know where he was lined up on the field.

Young’s first touchdown pass was a 26-yarder to Kabion Ento on the Cardinals’ first drive of the game, which went nine plays and 59 yards.

Stuttgart went 73 yards to finally get on the board early in the second quarter. Brown ran four times and completed two passes on the drive, which he capped with a 2-yard run.

The Ricebirds caught a big break on the Cardinals’ next series. Dion Culclager dropped a wide-open pass behind the secondary on a fourth-and-7 fake-punt play, giving Stuttgart possession at the Cardinals’ 26. Nine plays later, Brown scored on another 2-yard run to give Stuttgart a 12-8 lead.

Long carried four times on the next possession to help Dollarway strike back. But he hit Darius Robinson on a crossing route on third-and-14, and Robinson beat the secondary for a 60-yard touchdown play with 1:38 left in the half.

Then Stuttgart went 67 yards in 92 seconds to move back in front. Brown ran a bootleg and found Ice in the corner of the end zone for the go-ahead TD.

Neither team scored in the third quarter, as Dollarway lost a fumble and Stuttgart missed a 31-yard field-goal attempt. To start the fourth quarter, Brown completed a 47-yard pass to Dre’lon Ice to the Dollarway 28. Five plays later, Tyler Luster ran from 5 yards out to make it 24-14.