Central Arkansas Christian will open football season Tuesday against Stuttgart, the defending Class 4A state champion, in the First Security Kickoff Classic at War Memorial Stadium.

It will be a repeat of last year’s opener, but Tommy Shoemaker’s Mustangs are looking for a different result.

"They lost a lot of players," Shoemaker said. "We lost a lot, too, but I think it’ll be a really good matchup. I hope we can pick up where we left off in the first half and finish a little better this time."

The Mustangs suffered some major injuries in last year’s meeting, including a shoulder issue that knocked out their starting quarterback, Jack Thomas, after less than a half. After trailing by 22-21 at halftime, Stuttgart marched to a 49-22 win and went on to a 13-1 record, its only loss to Lonoke in Week 9.

Coach Billy Elmore is 22-4 in two seasons with the Ricebirds.

"I don’t think they expected to win the state championship, but they thought they’d be pretty good just because of how many seniors they had," Shoemaker said. "They obviously got on a run at the right time and had a great year. I knew they had a lot of good senior leaderships and were going to be strong, but I honestly thought the state champion would come out of our conference."

But just two starters return for the Ricebirds’ Spread offense and three for the 4-3 defense, so Shoemaker senses an opportunity to turn the tables.

"Just being the first game, we’re all ready to go play," he said. "We’re tired of practicing. It’s just exciting to play the first game. It’s a quality opponent. Them being the defending state champion, I’m sure, puts more pressure on them than us. It is an opportunity.

With next season’s realignment, CAC will join the Ricebirds in the 2-4A.

Shoemaker said Sunday that coaches had watched last year’s film and that they would watch Stuttgart scrimmage at Warren on Monday prior to traveling to Harding Academy for the Mustangs’ benefit game with the Wildcats and Beebe.

"Everybody’s going to tweak things to fit their athletes," he said. "I don’t know yet what their personnel are like. Typically, if there’s not a coaching change, you figure they’re going to be doing a lot of similar things."

He said the Mustangs had a smooth week of practice last week in advance of the scrimmage.

"We managed to stay relatively injury-free," he said. "We’re looking forward (to the scrimmage). There will be some things to fix, but we’ll have to turn around and play quickly. We’ll come back Wednesday and start getting ready."

He said Wednesday would be a typical light Monday walk-through, with harder sessions Thursday and Friday. The Mustangs will practice on Labor Day, he said.

"We’re excited to get going," he said. "The speed of everything is going to pick up, and then we’ll finally get in a regular routine."

Little Rock Christian and Hot Springs Lakeside will play the first game of the Kickoff Classic at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, with CAC-Stuttgart to follow at 7:30.