Stuttgart’s quarterback Dontrell Brown advances the ball down field against the Ozark Hillbillies in Saturday’s Class 4A state championship at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. (Special to the Commercial/William Harvey)
LITTLE ROCK — Bigger, stronger, faster.
Stuttgart quarterback Dontrell Brown pulled off the rare trifecta Saturday at War Memorial Stadium, beating Ozark with his running, throwing and punting.
Brown accounted for nearly 277 yards total offense and three touchdowns as Stuttgart beat Ozark, 28-7, in the 4A State Championship Game before a crowd of 8,233.
“We don’t hide it, it’s a football town,” Stuttgart coach Billy Elmore said. “I said it earlier in the week — we don’t hang runner-up banners. These kids have heard what it’s about to be a state champion since they were born.”
Stuttgart’s seventh state championship — and its first since 2002 — seemed well in hand at halftime, as the Ricebirds’ defense held Ozark to 7 yards and no points in the first half of Saturday’s game.
But two turnovers deep in Ozark territory kept Stuttgart from expanding the lead. Then when Ozark drove 57 yards for a TD on its opening drive of the second half, the Hillbillies trailed by just seven.
“We turned the ball over twice and had a touchdown called back,” Elmore said. “We felt like it should have been 28-0 at halftime. Give Ozark credit, they came back and punched us in the face right there.”
Starting from its 43, and benefiting from a key penalty, Ozark’s Josef Asbeck capped a nine-play drive to open the third quarter by squirting in from 14 yards out to slice Stuttgart’s lead to 14-7.
The Hillbillies then forced Stuttgart to punt, but Brown’s 55-yarder pinned Ozark back at its 16.
Held to just four first-half first downs — half of which came via penalties — Ozark opened the third quarter in the wishbone, and for nine plays it worked beautifully.
“We knew Ozark would play hard — they have so many seniors,” Elmore said. “It’s a game of adjustments. They had that one drive and then our kids responded to it. If you had told me before the game that they would line up in the wishbone and score on us I would have told you you’re crazy, because people hadn’t been able to do that.”
Ozark coach Jeremie Burns said he thought the wishbone might have turned the tide for the Hillbillies.
“We had the momentum and I thought we had the shot there,” Burns said. “I thought we would be able to get something going, but we had some injuries and we just weren’t able to overcome them.”
Ozark quarterback Jonathan McKenzie suffered a high-ankle sprain in the final minutes of last week’s semifinal win at Highland. Trainers told him he wouldn’t be able to play for at least two weeks. He played the first series, but was obviously hampered and went to the bench.
But after backup Jake Simpson was knocked out of the game in the first quarter, McKenzie was forced into action.
“He had his foot in a boot all week,” Burns said of McKenzie. “He gutted it out and went out there and did what he could.”
Hobbled, McKenzie was sacked three times and had trouble escaping Stuttgart’s rush.
The Ricebirds held Ozark to 119 yards total offense.
“We kept our heads,” McKenzie said. “We came out and really wanted it, but didn’t make enough plays.”
Brown got things going with a 3-yard touchdown run with 8:17 left in the first quarter. The Ricebirds extended their lead to 14-0 late in the second when Brown capped an 11-play, 68-yard drive by scoring from 11 yards out with 4:50 left in the half.
After Asbeck’s TD gave Ozark new life, Brown went back to work. Keyed by a 16-yard pass to Jon Curtis, Brown finished another 68-yard drive by scoring from a yard out with 40 seconds left in the third quarter. Brown, who rushed for 219 yards, was named MVP.