Mathematically, Lonoke doesn’t have to beat Stuttgart on Friday for the Jackrabbits to qualify for the Class 4A state football playoffs.
But it would be a lot easier for them if they did.
“If we win out, we’re in for sure,” said coach Taggart Moore, whose team is 3-5 overall and 2-3 in 2-4A conference play after last week’s 49-7 win over Central Arkansas Christian. “I’m hoping we can win these last two (Stuttgart and at Riverview next week). If we don’t beat Stuttgart, we’ll have to beat Riverview and then have some other teams do some things for us.”
Beating the Ricebirds (5-3) on Senior Night at James B. Abraham Stadium won’t be an easy task.
They are tied atop the 2-4A at 4-1, having lost only to Southside Batesville (7-1, 4-1), 21-7. The Jackrabbits also lost to the Southerners, 28-14.
Other common opponents include Heber Springs, Baptist Prep and Helena-West Helena Central. The Ricebirds beat Heber, 20-7; Lonoke fell, 41-22. Both beat Baptist Prep, Stuttgart by 47-10, Lonoke by 49-14. Stuttgart beat Helena-West Helena Central, 43-8; Lonoke fell to the Cougars, 41-22.
“They’re the most talented team we’ve played so far in the conference,” Moore said of the Ricebirds. “They have really good athletes, a really good junior quarterback, one of the best defensive ends I’ve seen in a long time. They have athletes all over the field.
“They are a completely different team than they were at the first of the year. They started in the Spread, but they turned the ball over a lot so now they are basing out of the Wing T and running the football, doing a lot of play-action passes. They are starting to hit their stride in that. They’ve had a good defense all year, so they will really be a good test for us.
“But when it’s Lonoke-Stuttgart, the records don’t really matter. You can pretty much throw them out. Lonoke-Stuttgart is a pretty big game.”
Stuttgart tied for the conference championship last year en route to an 8-4 season that included a 45-14 victory over Lonoke and two losses to Warren, the eventual Class 4A state champion. In 2016, the Ricebirds won six straight before their season ended at Warren in the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs.
Six starters return from that team for Stuttgart’s Multiple offense, with six also back for the 4-2-5 defensive scheme.
Heading into Week 9, three teams are tied atop the 2-4A at 4-1: Southside Batesville (7-1 overall), Stuttgart and Heber Springs (each 5-3). Riverview and Helena-West Helena Central are tied for fourth at 6-2, 3-2. Lonoke is sixth at 3-5 and 2-3, followed by CAC and Baptist Prep, both 0-8 and 0-5.
The top five teams will move on to the Class 4A state playoffs.
Keys for the Jackrabbits against Stuttgart?
“We’ve got to continue to keep our offense rolling,” Moore said. “We had a good night Friday night (against CAC). The defense is starting to come into its own. I think it’s going to keep us in ball games. We haven’t given up many points the last few weeks. We need to continue that.
“We’ve got everybody back healthy. If we just come out and continue to get better like we’ve done all year, I think we’re going to have a good shot.”
He said the Jackrabbits would need good performances from usual suspects Xavier Hodge at running back, Daniel Seigrist at quarterback and Michael Hodges at middle linebacker.
“We need Xavier to have something like 25 carries for 150 yards,” Moore said. “Daniel’s got to take care of the football, run the ball well and throw when we need to. Michael Hodges has been playing great and leads the team in tackles. He has really impressed me this year.”
Against CAC last week, the Jackrabbits got 115 yards rushing on eight carries by Seigrist, 114 yards on 16 carries by Hodge, 10 tackles by Jackson Ward and three interceptions by Tyler Washington.