Ozark holds off Clarksville

They traveled over 100 miles down the road to wage their annual battle at War Memorial Stadium. Chances are, neither team will return to WMS this season, but they opened the season in style with an exciting ballgame. Ozark pulled it out, 22-15.

The rivalry factor narrowed the experience gap as much as it could Monday afternoon.

But in the end Ozark's seven returning starters proved to be the difference in a 22-15 victory over Clarksville at the Alltel/Hootens. com Kickoff Classic at War Memorial Stadium.

Clarksville (0-1), a AAAA-West team with just one returning starter, stayed with its former 4 AAA conference rival, but big plays and a potent ground attack helped the Hillbillies hold on. "This game is always going to be tight. I don't care who has what," first-year Ozark Coach Michael Johnson said. "It's going to come down to whoever executes."

Both teams had their share of poor execution on Monday.

Ozark overcame seven fumbles, including four lost, and Clarksville quarterback Juan Elizondo had four passes intercepted, all by Hillbillies junior defensive back James Hillard. "Our coaches said to stay back in passing situations and that's what I did," Hillard said. "We all did that today."

A turnover sealed the game when Hillard intercepted an Elizondo pass at the Clarksville 23 with 1:13 remaining.

The outcome was in doubt before that because Clarksville's aggressive defense stripped many of Ozarks' seven fumbles.

The last fumble recovery with 1:19 left gave Clarksville its final comeback opportunity. "We executed well at times, but in the end it was our inability to execute that cost us," Clarksville Coach Michael Banning. "They have a lot more returning starters than we do and we had a lot of sophomores all over the field, so I can't say how proud I am to come to Little Rock and show up to play like we did." That doesn't make the loss any better, but our young kids certainly came to play. "Ozark (1-0) outgained Clarksville 440-206, including 388-80 on the ground. Jonathan Flanagin rushed for 156 yards on 14 carries and Ricky Garrett added 114 yards on 14 carries.

" We did a good job taking what they gave us, but they had a great scheme for us, "Johnson said." Their defensive coordinator did a great job to take our offense away from us and we had to change things up. "The change was just enough to overcome the turnovers and a quality start from Elizondo, who finished 11 of 26 for 126 yards." We haven't fumbled twice in practice, but it seemed like we fumbled every other time tonight, "Johnson said." I think it would have been a lot easier game for us if we would have hung on to the ball. "

Ozark took an 8-0 lead with 26 seconds left in the first quarter on a 7-yard run from Jared Reano and a two-point conversion run from Hillard. That lead grew to 15-0 with 1:33 left in the first half on a 17-yard run from Flanagin, but a big third quarter from Clarksville made things interesting. The Panthers opened the second half with a nine-play, 71-yard drive, completed when Elizondo threw a 9-yard scoring pass to Nick Lyons with 6:27 left.

Two plays into Ozark's ensuing drive, Clarksville recovered a fumble and quickly tied the game when Elizondo connected with Jonathan Brown on a 20-yard touchdown pass with 5:04 left in the quarter.

Ozark sealed the victory on a 17-yard scoring run from Reano with 6:29 left in the game.


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