Stuttgart struggling to repeat last year's success

The Stuttgart Ricebirds are the defending 4A state champion. The keyword in that statement? “Defending,” which has been a tall task for the Ricebirds this season.

“We’re Stuttgart. We’re going to get a lot of people’s best effort. It’s a different year but our expectations are still the same,” stated Ricebirds head coach Billy Elmore.

Stuttgart (4-3, 3-1) has found itself in different territory than that of a year ago. Last year, the Ricebirds nearly dominated every team on their schedule and collected only one loss on the way to winning the title game, which was against conference foe Lonoke.

However, this season has been more of a challenge for the Ricebirds. Stuttgart opened up the season with back-to-back losses against Central Arkansas Christian and Valley View. The team managed to bounce back with a three-game winning streak against Dumas, Batesville Southside and Heber Springs, respectively. But just when it seemed the Ricebirds had a rhythm going, that winning streak came to a halt after the team traveled to Newport and suffered a 41-21 defeat.

Last week, Stuttgart bounced back and defeated Clinton 35-27. Senior running back Tyler Luster rushed 14 times for 100 yards and a touchdown while sophomore running back Malik Brasfield gained 58 yards and three touchdowns on 20 rushes. The trio of defensive backs consisting of Jordan Dorset, Trey Sims and Jerrell Hobbs all collected an interception apiece.

“It was a good win. We played well at times and we didn’t play well at times but it’s always great to get a win on homecoming,” said Elmore.

The Ricebirds are still in position to make the playoffs but will have to be consistent to do so. The team will be on the road for their next two games against Dollarway and Lonoke and will end the season at home against Marianna. Last week, Dollarway and Lonoke were tied for first place in the 2-4A conference, but Dollarway stands alone now in the top spot after crushing Lonoke 52-19.

But as for Friday night’s game against Dollarway (7-0, 4-0), it will be a rematch of two teams who had to share the conference title last year.

“I think at 7 (p.m.) everything will go out the window and it’s going to be Dollarway against Stuttgart. It’s going to be a hard, physical football game,” stated Elmore.

Dollarway’s dominating defense matched with its speedy, big play offense have yet to be stopped this season but coach Elmore believes that the key is to slow them down.

“It’s really hard to pick which position they’re athletic in because they’re loaded with athletes in every position,” said Elmore. “I think you have to slow (Dollarway’s offense) down and you have to keep them in check. Offensively, we have to take care of the ball (and) not have any turnovers.”