SPORTS >> Bears can’t convert late break into victory
Leader sports writer
Call it a bad omen, divine intervention or just downright cruel symbolism, but the torrential downpour that ensued just as Sylvan Hills began its final possession came at exactly the wrong time for the Bears in their 28-21 loss to Mills University
Studies on Thursday night at Bill Blackwood Field.
In a season that has given few breaks to the Bears, a late fumble recovery by sophomore Edwin Smith with less than six minutes to play gave Hillside a chance to tie with good field position at midfield, but the heavy rain thwarted the Bears’ passing game, which allowed Mills to regain possession and run out the clock.
The threat of rain persisted throughout the 5A-Southeast Conference matchup with light drizzle that was off and on, but the storm moved closer just as Mills quarterback Christian Hampton coughed up the ball at the 50-yard line with 5:25 left to play.
The Comets (3-2, 1-1) had stopped Sylvan Hills (0-5, 0-2) moments earlier when they sacked quarterback Jordan Spears on fourth and six.
“It’s unbelievable; just the way the whole season has gone for us,” said Bears coach Jim Withrow. “We do something good, then something bad happens. The kids played hard and got after it, and we were able to make some plays. We just didn’t make enough plays.”
Sylvan Hills also had to do without the services of senior standouts Juliean Broner and leading receiver Ahmad Scott.
Broner saw limited time due to the lingering effects of a knee injury sustained earlier in the year, while Scott went down in the second offensive series and did not return.
The Bears got their first lead of the season against any opponent when a swing pass from Spears to senior running back Marquis Smith turned into a 10-yard touchdown play with 1:01 left in the third quarter at 20-20, and senior kicker Phillip Persson added the point after to put Sylvan Hills up 21-20.
Mills answered with the longest drive of the game. The Comets went 56 yards in 12 plays, and ate nearly six minutes off the clock when Steven Clark went nine yards on an end-around play to the right side to score with 7:05 left to play.
Hampton kept for the two-point conversion attempt and was successful.
Spears had a decent night through the air, completing 11 of 21 passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns, but a pair of interceptions by Mills killed promising drives for the Bears.
The first pick by Terrell Johnson at the 6:59 mark of the first quarter ended Sylvan Hills’ first drive of the game after the Bears marched from their own 36-yard line down to the Mills’ 33. Johnson tacked on a 54-yard return after the pick to set up the Comets at the SH 32-yard line.
The Comets moved across the short field in seven plays, with a five-yard keep by Hampton at the 4:02 mark to convert the score.
Hampton also called his own number for the first Mills’ score on its opening possession with a 51-yard dash to give the Comets a 7-0 lead with 10:53 left in the first quarter.
The Bears lost the ball on their next drive with a fumble at the Mills’ 5-yard line after going 55 yards in seven plays.
But Sylvan Hills fired back in the second quarter with an 11-play, 60-yard drive that was capped off with a seven-yard touchdown toss from Spears to Sirmichael Finney with 3:40 left in the half. Persson added the point-after to cut Mills’ lead to 14-7.
The Bears struck again before the end of the half when Spears recovered a Mills fumble at its own 35. Spears moved the ball with a pair of completions to Taylor Clark, and senior running back Marquis Smith finished the drive with a two-yard bull up the middle at the 48-second mark to tie the game at the half.
“We’ve made a few plays and moved the ball all season, we just haven’t put any points on the board until (Thursday) night,” said Withrow. “That was the biggest difference. Once we broke through and got that first score, we had a lot more confidence.”
Smith carried 18 times for 93 yards and a touchdown to lead the ground assault for the Bears, and also had three receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown.
Clark had six catches for 37 yards.
Sylvan Hills had 224 yards of total offense with 11 first downs, nine of which came in the first half.
Michael Robinson led defensively with 12 tackles, while Spears and Josh Molden had six stops each.
Mills had 300 yards of total offense. Hampton led with 18 carries for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
The Comets were also penalized eight times for 62 yards.
Sylvan Hills will host Crossett next week, while Mills will play at Little Rock McClellan.