While watching Stuttgart’s 35-20 victory over conference rival Heber Springs, one word came to mind — physical.

In conversations with Stuttgart Ricebird Head Coach Billy Elmore, one word is uttered more often than any other — physical. In listening to the talk of Ricebird assistant coaches, one word dominates their jargon — physical. While watching Stuttgart’s 35-20 victory over conference rival Heber Springs, one word came to mind — physical. That is no coincidence.

Rivaling any other attribute, team physicality is cultivated by this Ricebird coaching staff on a daily basis. Thus far in the 2013 season, it looks as though these Ricebird athletes are welcoming the challenge. Friday night’s win was the most physically dominating performance for Stuttgart on both sides of the football to this point in the season. Heber Springs, regardless of their 0-5 record, posed a significant upgrade in competition from the two previous weeks, and the Birds certainly passed the test.

Stuttgart gained 389 yards rushing Friday night on 59 carries. That is good enough for a 6.1 yard per carry average. The Birds did not turn the football over one time, and were only penalized four times in the win. Stuttgart possessed the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game and recorded four tackles for loss on the night. In all, it was a physically dominant performance Friday night.

As light rain showers fell intermittently on south Stuttgart, the Ricebirds began the football game on defense. Heber Springs moved the ball with ease on its opening drive of four plays.

The Panthers gashed Stuttgart on the ground. Running the football from the shotgun formation, Heber Springs had success getting on the edge of Stuttgart’s defense early.

Following four plays that netted 67 yards, the Panthers led 7-0. Stuttgart answered with what has become a hallmark of this 2013 team, a slow, methodical, time consuming touchdown drive. The 14-play drive, Stuttgart’s 11th drive of 10 plays or more on the season, began with 10:30 on the first quarter clock. Tyler Luster would score his team-leading eighth touchdown of the season nearly six minutes later and the game was tied at seven following Jackson Kennedy’s PAT. The first quarter ended with Heber Springs driving, on the legs of Panther running back Chandler Marquardt, to the Bird 32.

The second quarter began with Stuttgart’s defense forcing a turnover on downs and giving the Bird offense possession at its own 32 yard line. For over 10 minutes of the quarter the game would prove to be a defensive struggle. Neither team was able to sustain a meaningful drive as the game became a chess match of field position.

At the 1:14 mark of the first half the Panthers made the mistake that proved to be the turning point in the game, a fumble. With 40 yards to go, and 1:14 left on the clock, Stuttgart inserted Carter Ward at quarterback. In this space last week, it was noted that the combination of Ward at quarterback and Malik Brasfield, paired with Luster and Tyiiereek Walker at running back, gave Stuttgart a bit more offensive explosion. That would be the case on this night. The combination of Ward’s passing and Brasfield’s running would get Stuttgart in the end zone once more before half. Following the PAT, Stuttgart would lead 14-7 with 17 seconds remaining before half time. The Ricebirds averted near disaster on the Panthers’ first play following the touchdown. Heber Springs ran a half-back pass to the right side of the field.

Luckily for Stuttgart, Marquardt did not see his receiver running behind the Bird secondary. The half ended with Stuttgart leading 14-7.

If it is possible to play the perfect offensive quarter of football that is exactly what Stuttgart did in the third quarter. Continuing with the combination of Luster and Brasfield in the backfield with Ward at quarterback, Stuttgart would score touchdowns on all three of its third quarter possessions. Following the first two scoring drives of the half, highlighted by Ricebird battering ram Luster, Elmore was imploring his team to make Heber Springs tap out. The Panthers refused to tap out, however. Trailing 28-7 and facing third down and long from their own 30 yard line the Heber Springs offensive coaching staff made the perfect play call.

Knowing that the entire Ricebird team had arrived at the emotional mountain top, and expecting Stuttgart to pin their ears back in attacking the quarterback, the Heber Springs coaches called for a screen pass. It worked perfectly, and the Panther receiver raced down the left sideline for a much needed touchdown. The PAT would make the score 28-14.

Stuttgart would once again answer the call. A four minute, seven play drive would result in another Bird touchdown with 32 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Brasfield and Luster once again toted the rock for Stuttgart on the drive which was capped by a one yard plunge from quarterback Ward making the score 35-14 in favor of Stuttgart.

It cannot be re-stated enough just how physical Stuttgart played in this football game. In 36 total offensive plays during the second half, Stuttgart dropped back to pass two times. That is not an indication of being unable or unwilling to throw the football, simply that it was unnecessary. Defensively Stuttgart inflicted some punishing hits of their own. Juniors Jacob Clawson and Jorden Dorsett in particular laid leveling blows on Heber Springs during the football game.

Fourth quarter play was a bit more sloppy than the three previous quarters. Stuttgart began the fourth pinned at its own one yard line. Following three plays and a punt, Heber Springs had the ball at Stuttgart’s 38. Three plays later and the Panthers had pulled to 35-20 following a 12-yard run from Marquardt. The PAT would be no good. That would be the end of the scoring on this night however.

Stuttgart ended the game in every coach’s favorite formation and headed to the locker room with a statement making 35-20 victory.

Too much can be made of one victory often times. It should be noted however that last week’s win could look even more important as the close of the 2013 regular season looms. With the win Friday night, Stuttgart has put itself in a good position heading into the second half of the season. The Birds join Pine Bluff Dollarway, Lonoke and Clinton atop the 2-4A standings with a 2-0 conference record. A big test is coming up this Friday night however. Stuttgart travels to traditional 4A power Newport to face Coach Don Harrison’s Greyhounds. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Pick up Friday’s edition for a preview of the game.