No. 1 ranked Stuttgart resembled a Mack truck hauling heavy machinery down an interstate at 75 MPH with quarterback Dontrell Brown behind the wheel on cruise control Friday night.
Heber Springs offered resistance but simply couldn't stop Brown, who ran for 168 yards and three touchdowns behind a dominant offensive line as the Ricebirds snapped the Panthers' 12-game 2-4A conference winning streak with a 34-7 win at Panther Stadium.
Heber Coach Steve Janski said Stuttgart (5-0, 2-0) controlled the line of scrimmage. “They beat us up front on both sides of the football. They were more physical than us and I'd have to say that's the first time in a long time that a team has been more physical than us on both sides of the football.
Their front on offense and defense we couldn't handle and then tackling was poor and offensively we didn't have a good night throwing the football,” Janski continued. “Mike [Kramer] didn't have his reads and I don't know if that was because of pressure or what but he wasn't going through his progressions. We didn't play well and they are a very good football team,” added Janski.
The Ricebirds took the game's opening kickoff and marched 72 yards in nine plays for the lead. With 7:36 remaining in the first quarter, Brown powered into the end zone from three yards out and Jackson Kennedy added the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
After Chandler Marquardt returned the ensuing kickoff 27 yards behind a tight middle wedge, Heber moved the chains on a third and 7 middle screen pass from Kramer to running back Chandler Jones, who turned up field for 10 yards.
The Panthers' drive stalled out near midfield as Stuttgart's defense bowed up and forced a punt. Starting at its 15-yard line, the Ricebirds used 14 plays to move deep into Heber territory before the Panthers forced a fumble, which Gunner Nelson recovered at the 10-yard line.
On third and 3, Heber produced a first down when Kramer scrambled for five yards but Stuttgart's defense tightened and forced a punt, which Dre'lon Ice returned 30 yards to the Panther 35.
Five plays later Brown kept around left end for a 4-yard touchdown. Marquardt blocked Stuttgart's extra-point attempt, leaving the Ricebirds' lead at 13-0 with 4:34 left until halftime.
After forcing a quick three and out, Stuttgart got right back to work, this time covering 50 yards in nine plays for a score. The Ricebirds benefited from a roughing the passer penalty and a facemask penalty to penetrate deep into Panther territory.
Facing a third and 5, Brown kept around right side for nine yards and a new set of downs. After linebacker Josh Hudson upended running back Tyler Luster for a short loss, Brown carried twice, starting with a 5-yard run up the gut, setting up third and goal from the 1-yard line.
Page 2 of 3 - With 14.6 seconds left in the first half, Brown powered behind center on a quarterback sneak for 1-yard touchdown. On the two-point conversion, Brown rolled right and hit tight end Waymon Johnson for two more points, extending the Ricebirds' lead to 21-0 at halftime.
Heber moved past midfield for the first time on its opening drive of the second half, starting when Jones picked up five yards on the ground. After a false start penalty set the Panthers back, Kramer hit Nelson with a swing pass for seven yards.
On third and 3, Jones shook a defender near the line of scrimmage then burst past two more tacklers for 20 yards and a first down at the Stuttgart 40.
Jones added four more yards on two carries before Stuttgart defensive lineman Taylor Daniels batted down a third-down pass from Kramer. On fourth and 6, Kramer came under heavy duress, forcing a quick pass to receiver Micah Dew, who was stopped four yards short of a first down.
Following Heber's turnover on downs, Stuttgart marched 66 yards in nine snaps for a touchdown. Luster, who finished with 77 yards on 14 attempts, broke loose for a 21-yard run, which set up his 7-yard touchdown run only three plays later. The extra-point sailed wide right, leaving the Ricebirds' lead at 27-0 with 4:02 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers countered with a 9-play, 50-yard scoring drive that started at midfield due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Ricebirds.
Kramer hit Nelson over the middle for 26 yards, then Jones and Clint Ligon combined for 12 yards on three carries, including a four-yard run from Jones on third and 2 as the Panthers gained some confidence.
Facing a third and 9 with the third quarter coming to a close, Kramer found receiver Eddie Irvin over the middle for six yards, leaving Heber with a fourth and 3 to start the fourth quarter.
On fourth down, Kramer was flushed right where he found a window in the end zone and fired a dart to receiver Dillion Moore, who made the grab despite tight coverage for an 8-yard touchdown. Moore also booted the extra-point, trimming the Panthers' deficit to 27-7 with 11:54 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Both teams went three and out on their next possessions before Stuttgart iced the game with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Brown to receiver Jon Curtis. With 7:47 left to play, Kennedy added the extra-point, setting the final at 34-7.
Janski said his team must bounce back at Marianna (0-4, 0-2), which has been outscored 224-0 this season, including a 64-0 loss to Pine Bluff Dollarway on Friday. “We can go one or two ways and one is not an option. We've got to go back to work, get ready for Marianna. It's been four years since we have won there. They are an athletic team. We can't go by their record. Right now we need some confidence back.
Page 3 of 3 - I thought we had some confidence coming out of Lonoke but tonight, if it didn't break it (confidence), it definitely shook it. We have five games left and none of them in my opinion are going to be easy. We have to regroup, practice and go to work,” added Janski.
Stuttgart rolled up 375 yards of total offense, while limiting the Panthers to a total of 178 yards. Kramer finished 9-of-18 for 90 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Nelson had three receptions for 41 yards, while running four times for 18 yards. Jones rushed nine times for 32 yards and Marquardt added eight attempts for 28 yards.
Defensively, Hudson led the Panthers with 13 tackles (all solo), while Ligon made 12 stops, including 11 unassisted from his free safety position.