Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

SPORTS>>Long trip, athletic Crossett next up for Bears

Leader sports editor

Both teams are struggling to find an identity. Both are already trying to stay alive for a possible postseason berth.

Sylvan Hills will travel to Crossett on Friday night to take on an Eagle team that is still being molded by first-year head coach Todd Ledford.

“We’re a work in progress,” said Ledford, whose Eagles improved to 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the 5A-Southeast with a notable 27-15 win over White Hall last Friday. “I’m trying to get them to do it my way and it’s taking me some time to do it.”

Ledford’s way is a balanced attack out of a one-back set and a disciplined read-and-react defense. It’s been tough to teach, he said, especially with a young defense, but he insists it’s getting better every week.

For Sylvan Hills, it’s also been a matter of developing some consistency, especially on the offensive side. Last week against Mills, the Bears bounced back after an ugly performance in a Week 4 loss to White Hall that had head coach Jim Withrow scratching his head.

The Bears used a long fourth-quarter drive and the constant pounding of running backs Lawrence Hodges and Juliean Broner to beat Mills 27-8. Hodges ran for 133 yards, while Broner added 106. Quarterback Jordan Spears chipped in 55 on the ground.

“We developed some confidence on the ground last week,” said Withrow after his Bears snapped a 3-game slide to improve to 2-3 overall and 1-1 in conference.

“We kind of found a formula last week, did some more stuff with Spears under center. It worked out well with split backs. It takes some heat off of Jordan trying to throw the ball.”

Spears completed only one pass last week, though it was a huge one to Ahmad Scott. Withrow said Spears put several passes right on the money but had a couple of them dropped.

“We know we’re going to throw the ball more down the stretch,” Withrow said. “We still have the shotgun if we need it. The problem with playing teams like North Little Rock and Cabot is you can’t really settle into what you want to do. You kind of have to settle into what they want to do.

“But we want to get a closer balance. Ahmad and Taylor Clark have both done a good job for us at receiver.”

Whatever formula Sylvan Hills settles on this Friday, a win is critical, even this early into the conference season. With Beebe and Monticello figuring to battle it out for the top two spots in the league, there will be a spirited fight for the final two postseason slots. Crossett’s win over White Hall, a team which beat the Bears, would seem to give them the upper hand, but that would be erased if Sylvan Hills takes care of business Friday night.

“We’re treating it like a game we have to have,” Withrow said. “It’s kind of like everybody in the conference can beat everybody else.”

The Bears will focus on stopping running back Anthony Phillips, who rushed for 113 yards and also returned a kickoff for a touchdown against White Hall. But the Eagles are multi-faceted, with four good receivers and a solid quarterback in Derek Johnson. Ledford maintains that none of his players will “knock your eyes out to look at them.”

“We don’t have any big-play guys,” he said. “We have four guys who are crisp route runners. And Phillips can run, but his main thing is, he has real good vision.”

Giving up big plays hasn’t been much of an issue with Sylvan Hills all season, which has relied largely on its defense to keep it in games.

“The defense has done a good job,” Withrow said. “We’ve mostly kept the ball in front of us and we’ll need to do that on Friday.”

Ledford said that his defense should have its hands full against the Bears.

“Their quarterback can spin the ball pretty well, or they’ll line up and run over you,” he said. “They’ll get in the Veer and hammer away or they’ll be (in a no-back set). On defense, they’re out there trying to create mistakes and they’re all over the field.”

The Bears will have the luxury of a full roster on Friday night with the return of senior safety Casey Cerrato. Lineman Jacob Denson is slightly injured but is expected to play.

Linebacker Michael Robinson, who missed the first three games with injury, played nearly the entire game against Mills, allowing Hodges to remain fresh for his 25 carries.

“We got Lawrence in on offense for the full game,” Withrow said. “It’s amazing what happens when you have your gun full of bullets.”