Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

SPORTS>>Bears back home to face North Pulaski

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

Has Sylvan Hills found an identity six weeks into the season?

Head coach Jim Withrow seems to think so, and two consectutive wins would seem to suggest it.

The Bears got a dramatic win over Crossett last Friday night when Tanner Janssen booted a 27-yard field goal with four seconds remaining as Sylvan Hills remained very much alive in the hunt for one of the four playoff berths from the 5A-Southeast.

“That win ought to give us a lot of confidence,” said Withrow, whose Bears improved to 3-3, 2-1 in league play. “The plays we were messing up on early in the season, now weconvert them. We’re kind of maturing a bit.”

That maturation process was evident when the Bears didn’t panic after a long Crossett pass put the Eagles up 13-12 with four minutes left in the contest. Sylvan Hills marched nearly 70 yards, converting a third and long and a fourth and three along the way to set up Janssen’s game-winner.

On the other side of the football from Sylvan Hills this Friday night will be a team whose season began with lots of hope. Most of that has faded in the face of North Pulaski’s 5-game losing streak. The Falcons played a solid second half against White Hall last Friday night but were once again bitten by the big-play bug in falling 31-17.

“North Pulaski may be 0-3,” Withrow said, “but they’ve been close in a lot of games. They got a big fullback and a huge offensive line. They play hard on defense and they’ve got one of the better athletes in our conference in (Jerald Blair). They are more than capable of winning.”

Kickoff at Bill Blackwood Field is 7 p.m.

After beginning the season in the shotgun — with often dismal results — Sylvan Hills has gone into a split-back look with junior quarterback Jordan Spears now under center.

The result: Lawrence Hodges has rushed for 246 yards and Juliean Broner 220 the past two weeks.

“It’s been really big for both of those guys (for us to settle on an offense),” Withrow said. “I mean JuJu (Broner) has been a big part of it the whole time. Lawrence was trying to get his feet under him, to see where he fit.”

Hodges was forced to play a lot on defense through the first four weeks with middle linebacker Michael Robinson out with an injury. That limited his effectiveness running the ball, especially against the likes of physical 7A defenses Cabot and North Little Rock in consecutive weeks.

“That’s just Lawrence,” Withrow said. “He’s such an unselfish guy, such a team guy. I’m proud of him. He’s coming off a 950-yard rushing season and he might have had reason to wonder. He’s never complained.”

Spears, too, seems to have benefited from the new split-back scheme.

“He likes being in the shotgun, but he realizes he can do a lot more things in split backs,” Withrow said.

Spears threw for 89 yards against Crossett, and rushed for 52 more, giving the Bears a balanced attack that Withrow’s been looking for.

After falling quickly behind 15-0 to White Hall last week, North Pulaski battled back to narrow the margin to 23-17 in the third quarter. The Falcon defense forced three consecutive punts from the Bulldogs, but could never push the go-ahead score across. White Hall finally put it away with a late touchdown.

The Falcons will bring their huge offensive line, led by 350-pounders Cliff Copeland and Carlos Donley into the contest, as well as big running back Darius Cage and Billy Barron.

But the undersized Bears have faced big teams before in Cabot, North Little Rock and White Hall, so it will be nothing new to them.

“We’ve climbed Pinnacle Mountain,” Withrow said with a wry laugh. “Now were getting ready to climb the Himilayas, I guess.”

The Bears’ defense is surrendering only 15 points a game, and Withrow gives a lot of the credit to a quick front line and the schemes of defensive coordinator Johnny Rice.

“He has them in good position and they’re blitzing and stunting on every down. We put the house and the car down on the line every play.”