For the second time in three weeks, the Newport Greyhounds had one of the state’s best teams on the ropes late in the contest.
And for the second time in three weeks, the higher ranked team held on to thwart the Greyhound upset bid.
However, the Greyhounds feel they have served notice to the 2-4A - if not the state - they are racing back towards the top, despite falling 20-13 to the Number One ranked Stuttgart Ricebirds.
“Oh my gosh, that was a tough pill to swallow. I've never been around a better 3-3 football team and that is what we were talking to the kids about. They are right there,” Coach Jeromy Poole said following the loss.
After the third tough loss the Hounds have suffered - by a total of 12 points - Poole spent a longer time than usual addressing his squad on the field at Stuttgart.
“It is hard for them to see what the coaches see. They just see wins and losses and when people pick up the paper all they see are wins and losses but they don't see the improvement that these guys have made from this time last year,” he explained.
“Our kids are competing hard and we are competing with the number one team in the state and had opportunities and just didn't capitalize.”
With a strong north wind howling into the stadium which made it extremely tough to throw the football, two physical teams lined up and played smash-mouth football for 48 minutes.
The Hounds jumped on top late in the first quarter - shortly after the wind made its presence felt - as Carl Turner raced 78-yards for the game’s first score. His third down carry salvaged a possession and kept the Hounds from having to punt into the wind. The two-point conversion was no good as Newport led 6-0.
The ensuing kickoff served as a microcosm of the evening as Chris Grady’s kickoff, which normally lands around the 20-yard line, was caught by the wind and held up at the Stuttgart 35 for the Hounds to cover.
However, the drive stalled and the Newport defense appeared poised to shut out the explosive Ricebird offense in the first 24 minutes.
That was before Stuttgart quarterback Dontrelle Brown broke loose for an 80-yard run with :19 seconds remaining. The two-point conversion sent the game to halftime with the Ricebirds leading 8-6.
Stuttgart, which accepted the wind in the third quarter, took a calculated risk in the frame and had it pay off when, following a Newport fumble, Brown threw a 69-yard touchdown pass - with the wind - to take a 14-6 lead.
“It was tough with the playcalling. I didn't know the wind was going to blow like that and I don't think they did either. They got the wind, took a shot in that third quarter and that was a big play for them,” offensive coordinator Don Harrison said of the third quarter long ball.
Leading 14-6, the Ricebirds scored their final tally, a 12-yard touchdown run, with just over two minutes remaining in the third, leaving the Hounds to scramble in the fourth.
Just after the start of the fourth quarter, senior lineman Tim Brown recovered a Stuttgart fumble at the Ricebird 21-yard line.
One play later, Turner swung momentum back to the Hounds with a 21-yard scoring jaunt. Grady added the point after for a 20-13 deficit.
The Greyhounds had one final chance after the Newport defense held the Ricebirds with 7:46 to go in the game, however, the drive stalled and Stuttgart managed to run out the clock to remain undefeated.
“That is a good football team. They are ranked number one in the state for a reason,” Harrison said following the loss.
“I am very proud of our kids and our football team. Our kids are going to be just fine.”
Poole echoed those sentiments with a smile on his face.
“The biggest thing for our coaching staff right now is to keep our kids heads up and just keep them believing,” he said, “we have got a great opportunity in front of us if we will just take ownership of it. Despite what our record is, we are a very good football team.”
Turner again led the offensive statistics as he carried 25 times for 183 yards and two scores. Kristen Crite carried 8 times for 31 yards, Shufon Alcorn had 2 carries for 11 yards and Gunnar Bullard carried 4 times for 5 yards. Deandre Elston carried 2 times for 4 yards while Denver Smith had 1 tote for 3 yards.
Bullard, suffering with the driving wind, was 3-15 passing for 12 yards.
Garrett Smith had 2 catches for 15 yards while Turner had 1 catch for -3 yards.
The Newport defense held Stuttgart to 385 yards of total offense and only 20 points - well below both averages on the season.
It was led by a pair of linebackers - senior Stephen Neal and sophomore Khairan Stafford - who tallied 10 tackles each.
Alcorn, a junior cornerback, turned in another solid outing with 5 stops. Reid Johnson returned to the defensive side of the ball following an injury and recorded 3 tackles.
Divante Armstrong, Ramiro Macias, Crite and Grady had 2 tackles each while Brown, Hunter Bowen and Warren Smith had a stop each.
Newport (3-3, 1-2) now must turn their attention to Heber Springs (4-2, 2-1) as they Greyhounds go on the road for the second consecutive week for an important conference clash.
“”We have just got to focus on Heber Springs and get a win. We have to get that feeling back, get that winning feeling back and get our edge back,” Poole said.
“I expect that when we show up this week that they will be focused and this will be out of their head. It is over with. There is nothing you can do about it,” he noted.
“No, you are not supposed to enjoy it, none of us enjoy it, but if we let it haunt us next week then we won't be focused and be prepared for Heber Springs. We need to be focused on them because they are a good football team.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Heber Springs Friday night.a