OZARK — Unlike their last playoff encounter, the Ozark Hillbillies didn't need a big second-half rally against Ashdown.
Instead, the running of Ozark quarterback Harper Faulkenberry allowed the Hillbillies to lead from start to finish.
Faulkenberry ended up scoring three rushing touchdowns as Ozark advanced past the Panthers, 20-7, in the second round of the 4A playoffs Friday. It was a rematch of a playoff game from 2016 which was won by Ozark, 23-22, after rallying from a 16-0 halftime deficit.
Ozark (8-3) will be at home again this Friday to face Pocahontas in the third round of the 4A playoffs.
Here are five takeaways from the Hillbillies' win against Ashdown:
1. Ball control
On Ozark's first two possessions, the Hillbillies didn't score but had a pair of sustained drives before turning it over on downs in Ashdown territory.
The Hillbillies finally broke through on their third series in a scoreless game, going 79 yards in nine plays to go up 7-0 late in the opening half.
Ozark then scored on its first two second-half possessions, a seven-play 67-yard drive and a nine-play 85-yard drive as the Hillbillies built a 20-0 lead.
"I thought we were able to control the ball and keep it away from them," Ozark coach Jeremie Burns said. "That was the main goals we were wanting, so I thought we did a good job of that."
2. Lining them up
Ozark ran 48 rushing plays for 313 yards and the Hillbillies didn't commit a turnover on offense.
Burns gave plenty of credit to the offensive line, mainly consisting of left tackle Brock Burns, left guard Bryar Yates, center R.J. Karns, right guard Hunter Collums and right tackle Tanner Russell, as well as tight end Keystan Durning.
"We were kind of worried about it going into the game because they had some quick, athletic guys," Jeremie Burns said.
"But our guys came out and we were able to control the line of scrimmage and made plays when we needed to in order to keep the drives alive and go down and get some scores."
3. Happy return
In his playoff opener last season, Faulkenberry suffered a broken leg injury and was forced to miss the Hillbillies' eventual run to the 4A semifinals.
But Friday was a much better playoff opener for the senior quarterback.
Faulkenberry rushed for 203 yards on 33 carries and had all three Ozark TDs, covering 1, 3 and 22 yards.
"Last year, I got hurt in the playoffs and this year, I kind of went into it with the mentality that I was going to give it everything I had, every snap, and (Friday) I was able to do that and it was just my night," Faulkenberry said.
"My number got called and I was able to move the ball, so I was just really glad I got to do it."
Ozark running back Eli Masingale added 92 yards on the ground on 10 carries.
4. Ryker's island
Ozark junior linebacker Ryker Martin had a big night.
He recorded eight tackles, two for loss. Martin also had a third-down sack on Ashdown's first possession, and later had a second-half sack.
"There's flaws in the offense and you pick them out and you just roll with it, and I saw a flaw and I went for it," Martin said of his sack on Ashdown's opening series.
"Our d-line showed up and showed out (Friday), and without them keeping the linemen off of us, we couldn't make tackles. ... It all starts with our d-line."
In addition, Martin had two quarterback pressures and recovered a fumble. He even blocked a punt on special teams.
"He was in the backfield a bunch, so every time I looked up, he was back there making a big stop and they're calling his name out (on the PA system)," Burns said of Martin. "He had an awesome game, a lot of big stops."
5. All three phases
Ozark forced two turnovers in Friday's win.
The first came when Ashdown faced a fourth-down inside the Ozark 20 in the second quarter with the game still scoreless. But a bad snap allowed the Hillbillies to make the recovery, ending the threat.
Then late in the game, Durning intercepted a pass. He also led the team in tackles with 12.
Ozark also blocked two punts, one from Martin and the other from James Ellison.
"That's what we talked to them all the time about doing their job in all three of those and (Friday) was the night," Burns said.