Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

SPORTS>>Bears take on another giant foe

Leader sports editor

Perhaps no coach on a two-game losing streak has ever felt so good about his team.

Sylvan Hills begins 5A-Southeast Conference play when it hosts White Hall on Friday night.

And though the Bears are taking on an opponent two classifications down from the 7A foes they’ve battled the past two weeks, the physical challenge could be nearly as daunting. White Hall (1-1-1) is every bit as big as Cabot and nearly as bigas North Little Rock, the schools that have dealt Sylvan Hills (1-2) its two losses this season.

Yet after watching his defense hold the Panthers to two offensive touchdowns and the Charging Wildcats to just one, head coach Jim Withrow said his Bears are ready for anything.

“Our confidence is up,” said Withrow, whose Bears lost 24-0 to Cabot two weeks ago and 7-6 to North Little Rock last week.

“After you play two like that, I don’t think anything scares you anymore.

“But I think we’re playing one of the better teams in the conference this week and I don’t really like that after playing those last two teams.”

The Bears laid it all on the line last Friday in North Little Rock when they scored on a Lawrence Hodges’ run to cut the Wildcat lead to 7-6 with just under six minutes to play. Withrow opted to go for two and the lead, but Jordan Spears’ pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage.

White Hall is coming off a 40-16 win over Sheridan after opening with a loss to Lakeside and tying Watson Chapel in Week 2.
“We were terrible on defense in our first game,” said White Hall head coach Mike Vaughn. “But we’re young. We replaced 10 starters on defense.”

What makes the Bulldogs scary is their size, which includes a 320-pound center and a pair of tackles who both go over 300 pounds. That’s nothing new for Sylvan Hills, who have used their quickness on defense to overcome size disadvantages the first three weeks.

Running out of a multiple, ground-oriented offense, the Bulldogs have a potent 1-2 punch in quarterback J.J. Martin and fullback Larry Walls, who have combined for more than 1,100 yards through three games.

“They’ve got two kids that run the ball real well,” Withrow said. “And they use different types of formations, widen their tight end, pull their guards. Coach Vaughn has a lot of tricks in his bag so you can’t just key on (Martin or Walls).”

Withrow said the key will be to once again play quicker on defense, to make the initial hit at the line of scrimmage.

“They do a lot of the same things in their offense that we did with (former quarterback) Hunter Miller,” he said. “They run a lot of misdirection stuff to keep you off balance.”

For Sylvan Hills, the challenge offensively will be to get back to a more balanced attack. Because of cramps to receivers in the season-opening win against Malvern, the Bears relied on the run. Against Cabot, Withrow opted to go airborne to keep running backs Juliean Broner and Hodges fresher for defense. Last week, the Bears played more conservatively to keep the ball out of the hands of the physical Wildcats, and threw just nine times.

“Yeah, we want to be as balanced as we can,” Withrow said. “We want to get back to what we normally do — to have our running game complement our passing game.”

Hodges rushed for 63 yards and Broner 58 more against North Little Rock.

Despite the size advantage the Bulldogs will enjoy this Friday, Vaughn said Sylvan Hills’ speed is of enormous concern.

“Sylvan Hills has great athletes,” he said. “They are quick and physical and have a lot of speed. Their quarterback throws the ball pretty well. We know that we probably can’t blow them out, but if we don’t contain them, they can blow us out.”

Safety Casey Cerrato is still questionable for Friday after missing last week. But linebacker Michael Richardson, who missed the first three weeks, is expected to start against the Bulldogs.

“We need to get Casey back,” Withrow said. “He’s a senior and we need seniors out there.”