Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

SPORTS>>Bears’ coach is preaching urgency after shaky start

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

Jim Withrow is as puzzled as he is frustrated.

And he’s plenty frustrated.

“After watching us at practice last Wednesday, if you’d have told me we’d only score seven points (last Friday against White Hall), I’d have thought you were crazy,” said the Sylvan Hills head coach.

But seven is all the Bears could muster in falling to 1-3 with a 21-7 loss to the Bulldogs. It was pretty much the same story for Sylvan Hills as it had been through the first three weeks of the season: The defense played well enough for the Bears to win, while the offense struggled to find a rhythm, or even an identity.

“We struggled as an entire team,” Withrow said. “The defense played well but not as well as it could play. And the offense was an uninspired mess. In my nine years as a head coach, I’ve never seen anything like it.

“But at the end of the day, it resides at my front door. It’s my fault.”

Whoever deserves the blame, a simple fact remains. The Bears need a win and they need one this Friday. After inspiring performances — at least defensively — against a couple of 7A schools in Cabot and North Little Rock, this Friday’s game at
Mills might have seemed like one you could pencil into the win column for Sylvan Hills.

But Mills’ eye-opening 31-19 win over Jacksonville in Week 3 and the Bears’ ongoing doldrums makes this one anything but a cruise for Sylvan Hills.

“It may be just one of those years where I don’t know if anybody is much better than anybody else,” said Withrow, who coached at Mills until coming to Sylvan Hills in 2007. “I mean, Jacksonville beats Vilonia, then gets beat by Mills, who got beat pretty bad by Monticello last week. And Monticello lost to Vilonia.”

In other words, you better show up every week. Mills features a three-pronged threat in fleet and shifty quarterback Bentrell Cobbs, bruising 225-pound fullback Tim Stigall and quick tailback Zae Jones. The trio combined for 329 rushing yards in that win over Jacksonville.

And the Mills’ defense limited a potent Red Devil offense to just 250 total yards.

“We hope it’s not a slugfest,” said Withrow. “If they decide to give it to (Stigall) 30 times, it looks like he can carry it 30 times.

Their quarterback can sling it a long way and he can run it too. And their tailback can make some moves. All three present a problem.”

Withrow figures if the Bears can get the offense going, things should take care of themselves. Sylvan Hills had some success against White Hall, but mistakes once again plagued them, ending drives and costing them points.

A bad snap resulted in a 42-yard loss and a recovery for a White Hall touchdown, and a dropped pass in the end zone cost the Bears seven more points. Add to that misreads and some poorly-run receiver routes and it all has Withrow scratching his head.

“It was shocking to me,” Withrow said, still reeling from the performance more than 48 hours later. “I felt like we were going to win that game. Lawrence Hodges broke off a big run (to put Sylvan Hills up 7-0) and we were kind of looking around like we were on our way. We never did anything after that. It blew me away, some of the stuff we did.”

The Bears did manage a couple of sustained drives in the final period, but couldn’t cash it in.

Withrow said the Bears will try to get back to a balanced attack and clean up the mistakes. He said he has talked to older coaches, who tell him it’s just a matter of running the plays over and over and, eventually, everything will click.

One thing that might just help the Bears’offense is, strangely enough, the return of linebacker Michael Robinson, who missed the first three weeks with an injury, and played sparingly last week. His return to full strength will mean fewer defensive reps for Hodges at linebacker and fresher legs at his fullback position.

Withrow is also hoping for the return of senior safety Casey Cerrato, who has been hurt since the season opener.

“We don’t know if he’ll be ready this week or not, but we hope so,” Withrow said. “Just his presence as a leader out there really helps you.”

Withrow said that, given the circumstances, the emotion of returning to the site of his former coaching reign will take a back seat to other considerations.

“It might seem a little odd to be dressing in the visitor’s dressing room or being on the other sideline,” he said. “But this is a game we need to win. There’s no need to panic, but there is a need to pick our game up. Using the phrase ‘We’re young’ has gotten old.”