SPORTS>> Long kickoff return deflates Bears
The comeback that might have been for Sylvan Hills was quickly squashed by an 86-yard kickoff return and the Bears fell 36-20 to Monticello on Friday night at Bill Blackwood Field.
The Bears (4-4, 3-2 conf.) had just cut what was a 16-point lead at halftime to 23-20 on a pair of touchdown passes from Jordan Spears. It was a complete momentum turnaround from the first two quarters of play, until Brishen Mathews jetted down the middle of the field untouched to deflate Hillside on its homecoming.
“What got us was that kickoff return,” Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow said. “When that happened, it changed the game, because we needed to score twice with eight minutes to go. It put us in a situation we didn’t want to be in. We had to do whatever we had to do to win, and we had much rather gone with split backs and got down the field with play action, but we couldn’t do that in (12) minutes.”
The SH defense held its ground in the second half after the Billies racked up 240 yards on them in the first half. The Bears held them to only three first downs in the second half, the third coming on the exclamation touchdown drive for Monticello in the final minute.
“(We) gave up some big plays in the first half,” Withrow said. “It was like we weren’t ready to play. Then, in the second half, they came out and played real well. I thought we outplayed them in the second half, but the big plays are what we needed to stay away from. Without that kick return when it was 23-20, I would have liked to played it out from there.”
The Sylvan Hills offense breathed new life into the game to start the third quarter. Spears and company marched 66 yards in six plays to start the half, with Spears finding Ahmad Scott on a 20-yard touchdown pass at the 9:53 mark. Tanner Janssen added the point-after to make it 23-14.
Monticello (6-2, 5-0 conf.) went three and out on its ensuing drive, which set up another Bears scoring drive starting at their own 35.
It took 14 plays to cross the goal line this time, including a wild play that began with Juliean Broner snagging a Spears pass on third and 22 at the Billie 32-yard line. Broner rumbled close to the first-down marker, but a Monticello defender knocked the ball loose. It rolled downfield seven yards before Scott finally managed to chase it down and fall on it just before the Billie defenders got to it to keep the drive alive.
Spears took advantage and converted again, finding senior receiver Taylor Pennington on a 10-yard pass with 12 seconds left until the end of the third quarter. Janssen was wide on the point after try, and the score stayed 23-20, but not for long.
“I told my defensive coordinator, ‘I apologize for putting your defense back out there.’” Monticello head coach Van Paschal said of Mathews’ game-changing kick return. “He said, ‘No problem, we’ll take it.’ If not, you see where we were at, I mean, it was just nip and tuck. Hopefully we’ll learn from this and know that you have to play four quarters of football every time you step out on the field no matter who you play.”
The Billies got off to an early lead when a botched punt by Sylvan Hills on its first possession gave Monticello the ball at the 8.
The Bears forced Monticello to settle for three on that drive, but a 31-yard touchdown pass from reserve quarterback Joe Carmichael to Mathews in the final 30 seconds of the first quarter made it 10-0.
Carmical called his own number with 6:20 left in the half on a 1-yard sneak for the Billies third score of the night to make it 17-0.
The Bears finally found an answer with 3:51 left in the second quarter when Spears hit Scott for his first of two touchdown receptions.
But Monticello answered with 37 seconds left in the half on a 2-yard run by Trey Hawkins to carry a 23-7 lead into the locker room.
Spears was 10 of 16 passing for 116 yards and three touchdowns. He also had 14 carries for 62 yards. Lawrence Hodges added 53 yards on seven carries. The Bears finished with 255 yards total offense. They had 13 first downs.
The Billies ended up with 293 total yards.
The Bears take on McClellan next Friday.