SPORTS >> Bears at full strength for Bulldogs
By JASON KING
If Greenwood was looking for a willing underdog in the first round of the 5A state playoffs, Sylvan Hills was probably not what it had in mind.
The Bulldogs (9-1) swept the 5A-West Conference to earn the league title and No. 1 playoff seed with a 7-0 mark. They clinched the title last week on the road in a 25-21 victory over second-place Alma.
Sylvan Hills (4-6) ended the 5A-Southeast season at 4-3. The Bears have won four of their last five games after starting the
They clinched the No. 4 seed out of the Southeast with a 13-12 victory over Beebe last week at Bill Blackwood Field in their season and conference finale.
That set up the first-round playoff game at Greenwood’s Smith-Robinson Stadium in Greenwood on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
The numbers stack up in Greenwood’s favor, but Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow isn’t buying.
“I think it’s all in how you look at it,” Withrow said. “We’re playing a very good football team, but it’s not like we’re going in and facing the New England Patriots either. If you go out, play well and think you can win, that’s the biggest part of the battle.
“If you think you can win, you have a good chance. At the high school level, the psychological aspect is one of the biggest parts, and that’s the approach we’re taking. We’re going in thinking we can win. We’re not going up there just happy to be in the show and go out and have pizza afterward. If we don’t compete, I’m going to be very disappointed.”
Withrow was also quick to point out his team has already faced elite competition this season in the form of Cabot and North Little Rock in Week 2 and 3, as well 5A-Southeast Conference champion Monticello two weeks ago.
“If you’re intimidated now, you must have been asleep the past couple of months,” Withrow said. “I think we’ve also looked at it and realized how we could have approached those games better from a players’ perspective. Like in the Monticello game, they were up 14-0 before the game ever started, and it ended up 35-7. It could just as easily been 21-7.
“We can’t wait until we go halfway into the second quarter and then say, ‘Hey, wecan play with these guys.’ ”
The Bears and Badgers went scoreless last week until the fourth quarter, when both teams found the end zone twice. But a pair of missed two-point conversions by Beebe handed the victory and the playoff spot to Sylvan Hills.
“It was kind of the way I thought it would be,” Withrow said. “It was pretty evenly matched. We had some opportunities to score early on but didn’t cash them in — the same stuff we’ve been doing. But we had two big stops on two-point conversions.”
The Bears came full circle last week with the return of senior running back Juliean Broner. Broner has been back on defense for a number of weeks after recovering from a leg injury he sustained earlier in the year, but finally got a full release from the training staff to play offense.
“I thought we threw the ball pretty good,” Withrow said. “We got to using Broner more at tailback and got a little too one dimensional. It was good to have him back, but we’ve got to find that balance.”
With their final regular season game against Beebe played on Thursday, Withrow and his Bears had a chance to visit Alma to see the Airedales and White Hall face off.
“That’s what high school football should be,” Withrow said. “Both towns were there watching the game. I even got to meet the Alma superintendent — these people understand that academics and activities go hand in hand.”
What Withrow saw on the field was not a bunch of 300-pound gorillas, but rather well coached high school kids.
“One thing was their passing game was real precise,” Withrow said. “They made changes at the line of scrimmage; they would look at the coverage, check it off and go to something else.”
The Bulldogs are also multiple on defense. Withrow said that is something Bears senior quarterback Jordan Spears will have to be ready to deal with.
“Defensively, they disguise their coverages well,” Withrow said. “They have a lot of movement in their backfield.
“They will move up in the middle of the cadence. For Jordan, he’s going to have to be patient and wait and see what the coverage is.”