SPORTS >>SH Bears strike quick, hold off late rally by El Dorado
The Bears found the best defense for the Wildcats’ stellar comeback Friday night at Bill Blackwood Field during the fourth quarter of Sylvan Hills’ first-round 6A playoff game.
It was their offense.
Hillside survived a brutal final 12 minutes from El Dorado to take a 28-21 win by eating up the last 6:41 off the clock after the Wildcats pulled to within one score with a nine-yard run by junior tailback Justin Billings. Hunter Miller and Lawrence Hodges did most of the stick moving for the SH offense, and the final drive would be no different.
The duo put up 170 yards of the Bears offense, with Miller rushing 24 times for 96 yards, while Hodges ran 15 times for 74 yards. Junior fullback Hodges shook off a shoulder injury in the third quarter to complete the game, taking four straight handoffs from QB Miller to start out the Bears’ final drive. His four rushes took the ball from the Sylvan Hills’ 39-yard line to the El Dorado 36, and would get the call once again after a Miller scramble for three yards gave the Bears second and seven at the Wildcats’ 33-yard line.
The Bears got down to the El Dorado 22-yard line with 1:11 left in the game. Facing fourth down and five, Miller took a rare trip to the air for the first down. The plan worked, as junior Devin Shaw snuck through the Wildcats’ secondary to find a wide-open spot in the middle of the field, and Miller hit him between the numbers for a first down and goal at the El Dorado 4-yard line. The Wildcats had used up all of their time outs up to that point trying to put a stop to the Sylvan Hills drive, and backup QB Jordan Spears took a knee on the final two plays.
“We did what we had to do to win,” Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow said after the game. “I knew they would come back on us, but I think for our offensive line, especially our seniors, we kept hanging in there and finished it off.”
Withrow believes the on-field leadership of his senior quarterback was one major difference in the game, just as it has been most of the season.
“It’s huge,” Withrow said. “Whenever you have a solid quarterback leading you on the field, you can ride it a long way, and we’ve been riding it for seven weeks now.”
Miller, despite making some of the biggest offensive plays in the game along with a number of stops in the secondary, was content to chalk the win up to good team football.
“I just wanted to come out and play hard,” Miller said after the game. “We played a great game; the backs did good, the line did good, and the defense played great. We just had a good game the whole way around.”
In typical SH style, the Bears dominated the first half to jump out to a 21-7 halftime lead. The opening drive of the game resulted in a score, when Miller broke free on a 45-yard run to set up first and goal for the Bears at the El Dorado 4-yard line. Miller tried to punch it in on the following play, but only gained a yard. Hodges got the call on the next play, and busted up the gut for the three-yard TD run at the 9:12 mark of the first quarter. Stephan Kettle knocked down the extra-point to give Sylvan Hills and early 7-0 advantage.
The Bears’ defense held El Dorado to a single first down on the Wildcats’ opening drive, but a good punt sent Sylvan Hills back to its own 16-yard line to start the next drive. Miller would get that field position back and then some on the third play of the drive with a slant pass to Deonte Davis that was taken for a 56-yard gain all the way down to the El Dorado 25.
Miller took over on the ground from there, with four rushes totaling 25 yards, capped off with a two-yard sneak into the end zone with 2:03 left in the opening quarter. Kettle was perfect again on the PAT, and the Bears went up two scores at 14-0.
The SH defense’s only major first-half slip came in the final two minutes of the second quarter, when Wildcats receiver Clay Murphy slipped past the Bears’ coverage for a 40-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Jeremy Gill with 2:21 left until intermission.
The Bears would not go to the locker room without momentum, however. Two big pass plays from Miller were all that was needed for one more score before the break. The first one, a 34-yard toss to Shaw, took the ball down to the Wildcats’ 45-yard line, and perhaps the play of the game two downs later when sophomore Juliean Broner came down with a 45-yard pass from Miller into double-coverage. Broner pulled in the rocket from Miller and bullied his way across the goal line just as the buzzer sounded for the score.
The Bears continued to dominate both lines of scrimmage all through the third quarter, but the start to the final quarter would change the game altogether. The Wildcats had struggled to put offense together all night, but found new life at the beginning of the final period when a 37-yard pass play to Marcus Parker set up a one-yard touchdown keeper by Gill with 11:42 left in the game.
The El Dorado defense stepped up on the next drive, holding the Bears at midfield to force a punt with 9:03 left in the game. The Wildcats’ offense went back to work, and would quickly drive back into the SH red-zone before Billings took it in on a six-yard run with 6:43 left to play.
Miller, aside from his two rushing TDs, also threw for 176 yards and a touchdown with six completions on eight attempts. For El Dorado, Parker led the way offensively with five receptions for 60 yards.
Sylvan Hills’ record improves to 7-4 on the year with the win. El Dorado’s final record ended up at 6-5.
The Bears will travel to Pearcy for the quarterfinal round of the 6A state playoffs to face West No. 1 seed Lake Hamilton. The Wolves advanced with a 37-7 win over Marion.