Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

SPORTS>>Bears must shake off narrow loss to Billies

Leader sports editor

Taylor Pennington had just hauled in a pass to rally the Sylvan Hills Bears to within three points of first-place Monticello last Friday night when the bottom fell out.

Twelve seconds later, the Billies had re-established a comfortable margin after Grishen Mathews returned the ensuing kickoff 86 yards and the Bears never recovered in a 36-20 loss that dropped them into a third-place tie with White Hall in the 5A-Southeast.

“We had a ton of momentum and I thought we had a really good chance to win,” said Bear head coach Jim Withrow, whose team dropped to 4-4 overall, 3-2 in league play. “It seemed like we’d seized control of the game and had things going our way. But that’s why (Mathews) is a big-time player.”

Withrow said there may have been a miscommunication on the kickoff coverage and that the Bears were trying to kick away from Mathews.

Had the Bears completed the comeback from 17-0 down last Friday, they would today be tied for first place with the Billies and the Beebe Badgers. As it is, they now must get back to the business of securing one of the four playoff berths from the Southeast. Things figure to get a lot easier this Friday night when the Bears travel to 2-6 Little Rock McClellan, whose lone win in league play came on a last-minute touchdown against North Pulaski.

“They’re big up front,” Withrow said. “With the exception of North Pulaski, they’re probably the biggest team we’ll see up front in the conference. They’re getting their quarterback back this week. We’ve seen them on film and they can throw the ball deep, and their defense is not too bad.”

But, assuming the Bears can shake off the disappointment of the Monticello game, they should be able to take care of business on Friday. Withrow said he’s seen no lingering effect from the loss against one of the top teams in 5A.

“I think they were disappointed,” he said. “But we gave our best effort. We didn’t see total destruction (of the team’s confidence). I think they realize they still have work to do, and that we’re going to have to move on.”

Mostly, Sylvan Hills (4-4, 3-2) turned in another in a series of solid defensive performances against the Billies, limiting the potent, high-powered offense to just under 300 yards. There were areas in which the defense could have done better, Withrow said, primarily in defending the slot.

“For the most part, the kids executed the game plan pretty well,” he said. “We didn’t have room for mistakes and we had a couple that hurt us. We could have defended a couple of passes a little better. The last TD they scored was kind of a gift. They broke off a play on a counter.”

Offensively, the Bears found a balanced attack against a quick and physical Billie defense. Spears turned in one of his best games at quarterback, hitting 10 of 16 passes for three touchdowns and adding 62 yards on the ground. Lawrence Hodges ran for 53 yards.

Going against a big defensive front, Withrow opted to run out of the shotgun at times and with a two-tight-end set at others.

“Jordan ran the option well,” Withrow said. “He’s really starting to understand how to play the position and just looks a whole lot more comfortable in his execution.”

In addition to his touchdown pass to Pennington, Spears tossed two TD strikes to Ahmad Scott, who finished with four catches.

To some extent, the Bears control their own playoff destiny. Crossett and Mills are one game behind Sylvan Hills, but the Bears have wins over both. A win on Friday would secure at least a No. 4 slot. Win their final two and hope for a White Hall loss in one of its final two games and the Bears would finish second in the Southeast. White Hall hosts Beebe on Friday, and closes out at Mills.

But Sylvan Hills can’t afford to dwell on last week’s loss nor look ahead to a regular-season finale showdown at Beebe. And that’s not something Withrow is particularly concerned about.

“I hope we’re not looking past them,” he said. “If we didn’t learn with the White Hall deal (a 21-7 loss in the conference opener), I can’t think of a better lesson.”