SPORTS>>Badgers beat Bears, open playoffs at home
Leader sports editor
In a game that ended with a 16-point margin, a single point wouldn’t seem to make much of a difference. It did on Thursday night.
The Sylvan Hills Bears had just returned a Beebe Badger fumble 40 yards to set up a potential game-tying touchdown minutes into the second half on Thursday night at “Bro” Erwin Field. But after Bear quarterback Jordan Spears snuck in from two yards out to narrow the lead to 14-13, Victor Howell broke through to block the extra point.
The Bears never threatened the lead again and the Badgers (8-2, 6-1) put it away for a 35-19 victory, securing the No. 2 seed from the 5A Southeast and earning their first home playoff game since 2003. They will host Blytheville on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“The defense has been playing fantastic the last three weeks,” said Badger head coach John Shannon. “That’s how you win championships.”
The Bears (5-5, 4-3), meanwhile, face a monumental first-round challenge with the loss: A trip to either West Helena or Batesville, possibly without one of their top offensive weapons. Running back Juliean Broner, who was turning in a big game, injured his knee which leaves him questionable for the postseason.
Beebe played vintage Shannon football in the second half, holding the ball for 19 of the 24 minutes and running 39 plays to just 19 for the Bears after intermission.
The Badgers took a 14-7 lead into the locker room when Sammy Williams, who rushed 26 times for 129 yards, scored from 16 yards with 32 seconds left in the half.
Beebe then began the second half with a promising drive that ended when Sylvan Hills lineman Nick Brewer leveled Williams with a big hit, jarring the ball loose. Ahmad Scott scooped it up and rumbled 40 yards to 19, setting up Spears’ touchdown and Howell’s heroics.
“You would not believe what a blocked extra point does to you,” Sylvan Hills head coach Jim Withrow said. “But again, that’s part of the maturation process. I look out here and they have 20-some seniors. We have 10. That’s part of the deal. Our guys have to grow up and accept adversity and we didn’t really do that a lot tonight.”
If that weren’t deflating enough for the Bears, Beebe went on an 11-play drive that concluded with Brandon Pursell’s 13-yard touchdown sweep with 3:27 left in the third to make it 21-13. Pursell rushed for 106 yards on 16 carries and Luke Gardner added 64 more as the Badgers torched an exhausted Sylvan Hills defense for 194 second-half rushing yards – 325 overall.
“We’re still young, we’ve still got to grow up,” said Withrow. “You’ve gotta make plays. But I give (Beebe) credit. They stuffed it down our throats and we didn’t have an answer for it.”
The Bears tacked on another score with 10:14 left in the game after a 10-play, 68-yard drive, punctuated by Gardner’s 1-yard run that made it 28-13.
“We knew they were going to stack the box against us and we decided to cut our playbook down this week to four or five plays and run them good,” Shannon said. “The dive was there, big time. When we have the dive, the option and the off-tackle going at the same time, we’re a pretty good football team.”
Sylvan Hills still had hope and Spears’ 19-yard pass to Taylor Clark moved them into Beebe territory. But Scott Gowen picked off Spears’ pass to end the threat and the Badgers put it away five minutes later on Gardner’s second touchdown run of the night – this one from five yards with 3:38 left in the game that made it 35-13.
Spears found Taylor Clark across the middle for a 52-yard touchdown strike to set the final margin.
Sylvan Hills threatened to take the early lead in the game, but wasted an 8-minute, 17-play drive when it came up empty on a fourth and two from the Beebe 5. Matt Dent broke through to stop Lawrence Hodges short.
Beebe’s first touchdown was set up when Broner, back to receive a punt, fell down as he attempted to make the catch and Dent pounced on it at the Sylvan Hills 22. Four plays later, Williams broke a tackle in the backfield and went in from five yards with 6:08 left in the half.
The Bears answered with a 59-yard drive, capped off by a deflected pass at the goal line that popped up in the air and into the arms of Scott with 3:54 left. Beebe scored with 32 seconds left in the half to put the Badgers up 14-7 at the half.
Broner, before he was hurt near the end of the half after taking a lick on a 32-yard pass reception, finished with 43 yards on eight carries and 48 yards receiving on two catches. Hodges added 43 yards, while Spears ran for 37. Spears was 10 of 24 for 177 yards, though he suffered three picks — two by Spencer Forte. Clark led all receivers with 71 yards on two catches, while Scott hauled in three passes for 39 yards.
Beebe racked up 24 first downs and 351 yards. Sylvan Hills totaled 300 yards.
Sylvan Hills, the No. 4 seed, takes on the winner of West Helena and Batesville, played after leader deadlines last night.
“Our kids have always stepped up in big games,” Withrow said. “I’d have felt a whole lot better (about our playoff chances) if we’d won. But you can get off the bus and compete or stay on the bus and go home. I want guys that are going to compete.”