SPORTS>> Bears reach semifinals
Leader sports editor
For Jim Withrow, the first 7-on-7 of the summer was an opportunity to see, as he put it, “who would play when he got tired and who would perform when their backs were against the wall.”
His Sylvan Hills Bears were fresh — or, probably, not so fresh — off a football camp at Ouachita Baptist on Wednesday, and endured the stifling heat that baked the field at the Hoffman-Henry 7 on 7 Summer Showdown on Thursday at Pulaski Robinson High School.
When the footballs stopped flying, the Bears ‘A’ team had won three and lost three and made it to the semifinals.
“I thought both days we did a pretty good job,” Withrow said. “By no means are we ready to go tackle the world, but I saw a lot of positive stuff. I also saw stuff we need to improve.”
That included, he said, shoring up the secondary and finding another linebacker.
The North Pulaski Falcons also opened up the 7 on 7 season by going 1-2-1 while playing without standout Jerald Blair. The Falcons’ win came over the Sylvan Hills ‘A’ team (the Bears split up into two squads for Thursday’s tournament). Sylvan Hills avenged that loss in the elimination round with a 31-16 win.
Things couldn’t have started worse for the Falcons, who gave up 40-yard touchdowns on each of the first two Hot Springs’ Lakeside offensive plays to open the tournament. In 7 on 7 football, each team takes the ball at the 40-yard line. Lakeside eventually won the tournament.
“We had a lot of young kids playing out of position,” said North Pulaski coach Tony Bohannon. “We were supposed to be in man and the kid played it like it was zone, and let the receiver go. We had a couple of miscues.”
North Pulaski finally got settled defensively when Orlando Hicks broke up a pass at the goal line on the Rams’ third possession.
The favorite target of Falcon quarterback A.J. Allen on Thursday was Daniel Thurman, who caught all three touchdown passes in NP’s 21-10 win over Sylvan Hills. Thurman hauled in a fingertip catch for North Pulaski’s only score against the Rams.
“Daniel is a good receiver and a gutsy kid,” Bohannon said. “It was tough on A.J. He’s been throwing a baseball (for Gwatney American Legion) and now he has to step in and throw the football. I was really pleased overall with the way the kids performed.”
With backup Sylvan Hills quarterback Michael Maddox injured, Casey Cerrato stood in for the ‘B’ team, which was made up of younger, mostly junior varsity players. Though Cerrato struggled with his throwing and his decisions early, Withrow said he came around later in the day.
“We needed three yards for a first down against Lakeside and he threw deep,” Withrow said. “He turned to me and said, ‘I know.’ He understood. It’s a process and that’s why we’re out there, to get better.”
What most impressed Withrow about Cerrato was how tough he was on a scorching day.
“He’s one of those guys you have to have to win games,” Withrow said. “He’s a great team player. He played quarterback, receiver, safety and corner. (It was like he) ran to Perryville and back (Thursday).
“That’s just Casey. He’s a hard nosed guy and he understands the game.”
But it is Jordan Spears who is tabbed as the No. 1 quarterback this fall, and Withrow was high on him as well. Withrow said Spears’ arm looked great on Thursday, and marveled at his understanding of the game.
Spears hit Ahmad Scott for a 12-yard touchdown in Sylvan Hills’ opening round game against the Sylvan Hills ‘B’ team.
He added another scoring pass to Taylor Pennington, who made a leaping, fingertip grab in the back of the end zone, and capped off the 21-0 win with a strike to Lawrence Hodges, who caught the ball off a tip while falling down in the end zone.
“Ahmad was in a camp with (former Arkansas Razorbacks) J.J. Meadors and Anthony Lucas in the spring, and it shows,” Withrow said. “He ran better routes. And he did better in the secondary, too.”
Pennington, who is filling in for injured tight end Devin Shaw, showed good hands on Thursday, Withrow said, but needs to add consistency. And Juliean Broner caught a lot of passes and intercepted a couple of others, Withrow noted.
“Barry Bir is another guy that hardly ever got off the field (Thursday),” Withrow said. “He’s had a great offseason and is a leader-type guy.”
Bohannon said that would be the final 7 on 7 competition for his team this season, as his Falcons will primarily be a running team this fall. But the experience was good for his club and allowed him to make some early assessments, he said.
“I wasn’t so happy with our defensive coverage,” he said. “We need to be able to make better adjustments. But, again, a lot of that was just inexperience. We would have been a lot better with Jerald there.”
More importantly, Bohannon said, the event allowed his kids to compete.
“We wanted to win, but we wanted to get some work in,” he said. “That’s four games under their belt that a lot of other kids don’t have.”