SPORTS >>Sylvan Hills riding high; Patriots get players back
Leader sports editor
Sylvan Hills and Marion are two teams that seem to be catching each other at just the wrong time. The Bears just went to Forrest City and got their first conference win. It was a game that they needed not just to stay in the playoff race, but to build some confidence for the postseason chase that is the final three weeks of the year.
The Patriots suffered a big loss last week to Mountain Home, but they will have star running back Darcel Johnston back at full speed for this week’s matchup. In the preseason, Johnston was labeled one of the top running backs in the state, and his return is very important to the Patriots, who are 2-2 and in a three-way tie for third place in the 6A-East standings.
“I think we’re pretty much going to have him ready to go this week,” Marion coach Mark Uhiren said. “He hasn’t played a whole game since week one against Wynne. He missed a few weeks there and he’s played in spots since then, but he hasn’t been full speed. I think he’ll be ready this week. We’re going to bank on that.”
Sylvan Hills fullback Davon Neal has been hampered with injury this year too. Neal wasn’t the prospect that Johnston was at the start of the season, but he’s a major concern for Uhiren. “Of course everybody worries about their quarterback, and rightfully so, but that little fullback they’ve got is a good hand,” Uhiren said. “He’s not real flashy, but he’s strong, he runs strong and makes good decisions. He’s a very good back and you have to be ready for him.”
Uhiren also notices the team speed the Bears possess, but his team has seen speed before. “Assuming we play smart on defense, we ought to be right there with them on speed,” Uhiren said. “Any team with the kind of speed Sylvan Hills has concerns you, but we’ve seen a lot of it this year. Mills was an exceptionally fast team. Wynne is always fast and even Rogers was very fast compared to what they usually have. But Sylvan Hills is fast too. They’re probably just as athletic as any team we’ve seen, and we’re going to have to play smart. If you don’t, you’ll get burned.”
While Neal is one type of threat, the players that line up at wide receiver for the Bears are breakaway threats. That also has Uhiren’s attention. “That’s where playing smart comes in. Their receivers are very good. Of course you have to have a quarterback that can get it to them, and they definitely have that. They’re playing well right now so we better be ready to play.”
Johnston and a few other players will return for Uhiren this week, but getting them on the field is just one aspect of recovering from injury. The Marion staff will just have to wait and see how ready they are to hit and be hit.
“We’re getting some back, but you know once you get them back, you got to get ‘em back in the groove of playing football,” Uhiren said. “We’re battling that right now, some of them aren’t in good football shape. Hopefully we’ll be ready when Friday comes.”