The Warren defense will face a talented Stuttgart offense led by quarterback Dontrell Brown on Friday night. (Special to The Commercial/William Harvey)
Two high-powered offenses will square off Friday night in the quarterfinal match of the 4A state football playoffs.
No. 1 Stuttgart, which breezed past Dardanelle 54-0 last week, will host No. 5 Warren at Ned Moseley Stadium.
“We played well, no doubt about that,” Stuttgart head coach Billy Elmore said. “Formation-wise, I was a little worried going in, but we performed as well as we had all year.”
Elmore said as a team, they didn’t do anything different than normal. Instead it was about being more focused.
“I think our kids know it is playoff time,” Elmore said. “As coaches, we expect it and we need it going into playoffs.”
Stuttgart’s Tyler Luster ran for four touchdowns to spark the Ricebirds to a 54-0 win.
“Tyler has played well for us all year,” Elmore said. “We gave him the opportunity and he took full advantage. No doubt it was a big night for him.”
Elmore said he didn’t really notice who was scoring the touchdowns or how many times Luster had scored.
“All I knew, he was running the ball well,” Elmore said. “I don’t care who scores.”
Stuttgart’s only blemish this season was a 28-7 loss to Lonoke on Oct. 26. The Ricebirds earned home-field advantage and a first-round bye after finishing the regular season with a 9-1 mark overall and a 6-1 record in 2-4A conference play.
Last week, Warren scored a late touchdown and stopped Malvern on a fourth-down play at the Lumberjacks’ 11-yard line in the final minute to preserve a playoff win.
“We are much improved,” Warren head coach Bo Hembree said. “The last few weeks we have kept improving. Our kids never quit.”
Trailing 28-25, Warren scored its winning touchdown on a 47-yard screen pass from Drake Jones to Kilay Cox.
Elmore said he will not adjust his game plan for Warren too much.
“We try to do a lot of the same things every week,” Elmore said. “We don’t vary a whole lot.
“They are a good football team and well coached. But our preparation plan doesn’t differ.”
Elmore said Warren has an explosive offense and they “will have to be ready,” but it is their defense that is usually overlooked.
After taking their final lead against Malvern, Warren’s defense held in the late going thanks to a decisive tackle by Dey’Shawn McCrae. The Lumberjacks took a knee to run out the clock and advance to the quarterfinal game against Stuttgart.
“To get that big defensive stop shows much we have matured and how we have grown up a lot this year,” Hembree said.
Hembree believes his defense is the past part of their team.
“They have kept us in the ball game,” Hembree said. “When our offense is struggling in the first half, our defense gives us a chance to still be in it at half time.”
Last week the Ricebirds put up 55 points, so Hembree knows his team will have its work cut out on both sides of the ball.
“They have played well all year,” Hembree said. “Hopefully we can stray around and still be in it in the fourth quarter.”
Unlike Stuttgart, Hembree said Warren’s game plan is adjusted from week to week depending on who it plays.
“Every week is different, but hopefully we did a good job preparing,” Hembree said. “We have a walk through (today) and hopefully we will execute our game plan Friday night.”
Warren (9-3) at Stuttgart (11-1)
• 7 p.m. Friday at Ned Moseley Stadium
• Seeds: Stuttgart 2-4A champion; Warren 8-4A champion
• Last week: Stuttgart def. Dardanelle 54-0; Warren def. Malvern 32-28
• Semifinals: Winner will host Prairie Grove/Nashville winner next Friday