By Conor O'Neill
By Conor O’Neill
OF THE COMMERCIAL STAFF
When Dollarway meets Stuttgart tonight in a 4A state playoff game, don’t expect a lot of finesse football.
Both the Cardinals and Ricebirds have thrived this season with high-powered rushing games. And in Thursday interviews, Dollarway coach Cortez Lee and Stuttgart coach Billy Elmore gave similar answers for how to stop the other’s running game.
“(The key is) just containment,” Lee said. “Make sure guys are where they’re supposed to be. We rally to the ball and play team defense.”
“If we can keep the ball contained, we feel like we have a pretty good chance (to stop them),” Elmore said. “You can slow (Dollarway’s rushing attack) down, I don’t know if you ever stop it.”
For Dollarway (4-6), Lee said Stuttgart’s size and team speed will force the Cardinals to maintain their assignments on defense.
Dollarway will also need to focus on stopping, or at least slowing down, Keith Humbert. The senior running back rushed 34 times for 378 yards and five touchdowns last week against Star City.
But Elmore said the Ricebirds (9-2) will not enter tonight’s game thinking about giving Humbert the ball a certain amount or racking up that many yards.
“A lot of (his success) is going to depend on the number of carries,” Elmore said. “We don’t discuss personal goals. Whether he runs for 378 or 50 yards, if we have one more point than Dollarway, everybody will be happy at the end of the night.”
The Stuttgart coach is also aware of how many game-changing plays the Dollarway defense has forced.
“They’re the most athletic team we’ve played, by far,” Elmore said. “(The key for us) is not turning the ball over. They’ve created a living creating turnovers. The defense ball-hawks, they do the things that’ll scare you to death.”
While the records indicate otherwise, both teams have only lost on the field twice this season.
With three games left on its schedule, Dollarway forfeited four wins because of the use of an ineligible player. The Cardinals won their last three and earned a playoff berth, giving Lee what he said has been one of the proudest moments he’s had in 11 years of coaching.
“It’s one of the best feelings as a coach since I’ve been coaching,” Lee said. “To know that young men can go through some things that were out of their control and still come out on top and believe, it just made me proud to coach these young men.”
When the news broke a few weeks ago, Lee said his team was trying to remain positive and kept their minds on qualifying for the playoffs.
In talking to Lee Thursday, the coach said he initially thought his players’ talk was just that — talk.
“At first, coming from young men, I was kind of like, ‘They’re just saying that,’” Lee said. “But once they continuously said it on a daily basis and knew what the task at hand was, I started believing them even more.”
Now that the Cardinals have won four straight, including last week’s 34-31 against 1-4A Conference champion Ozark, Lee said the team is stronger because of the level of adversity it has faced this season.
“Once we realized what it was, we were still the same team, even though we had to lose some games,” Lee said. “Nothing changed on our mindset, we just knew we had a different task in front of us.”
That task is now tonight’s trip to Stuttgart for a 7:30 p.m. game.