Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

SPORTS >> Bears and Badgers to put it all on line

Sylvan Hills senior quarterback Jordan Spears dives for extra yardage in a recent conference game.

Leader sportswriter

Forget point differentials, forget the outcome of other games around the conference and forget waiting to see how it all pans out the following week.

The premise to this one is simple.

Thursday’s 5A-Southeast Conference matchup between Sylvan Hills and Beebe at Bill Blackwood Field in Sherwood is for all intents and purposes the league wild card game.

The winner of the regular-season finale will go on to play in the first round of the 5A state playoffs the following week as the 5A-Southeast’s No. 4 seed.

The loser begins its offseason.

“This is it — this is what it’s come down to,” Beebe coach John Shannon said. “The winner will go on and play in the playoffs; the loser will pack up their equipment and go home.”

The Badgers (3-6, 3-3) lost control of their playoff destiny with back-to-back losses to Mills University Studies and White Hall.

The Bears (3-6, 3-3) stayed alive last week with a 33-7 victory over Little Rock McClellan to set up the winner-take-all scenario.

Injuries throughout the season have forced Sylvan Hills to try a multitude of offensive schemes, including the rotation of four different running backs last week.

“We’re at a point now where it’s win or go home,” Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow said. “You have all winter to heal up, so we’ll try a number of different guys. If we have a back that gets hot, we’ll probably ride him until he passes out.”

Bears senior quarterback Jordan Spears has not had the kind of passing numbers he looked poised to have after impressive sophomore and junior seasons.

But with leading receiver Ahmad Scott injured for the middle part of the season and all-purpose offensive player Juliean Broner relegated to defense for the same reason most of the year, Spears’ targets have been few.

Withrow said Mother Nature has also had an effect on thepassing game during the last month.

“I don’t blame it on any one thing,” Withrow said of the Bears’ passing game. “We got Ahmad and Broner hurt, and that took away from what we wanted to do. When your big-play-threat guys are gone, it’s hard to get consistency.

“And once we got them back it started raining and turned every game into a mud bowl. That’s kind of the way it’s gone for us.

It’s been a frustrating thing to try and deal with and stay positive.”

The Badgers have had their own offensive struggles, including four trips to the red zone that did not produce points over the last two weeks against Mills and White Hall.

The numbers have been there for Beebe, which had over 300 yards rushing in each game, but the jump from the first-down chains to the scoreboard has fallen short.

“They’re going to get yards just by their philosophy,” Withrow said. “The big thing for us is don’t give them a big play on first down. You give them 7 or 8 yards on first down, you’re in trouble. If you give them a third-and-long situation, it’s tougher for them.

“But another thing for them is that they’ve thrown the ball a little better here lately.”

Shannon is not as concerned about what Sylvan Hills does to his offense as much as what Beebe does to it.

“I feel like when we’re clicking on all cylinders, we can move the ball against anybody,” Shannon said. “But the past two weeks, we haven’t been consistent, whether it’s been turnovers or penalties or missing blocks. That’s going to be the key for us, is overcoming ourselves.”

Shannon and Withrow have streaks on the line as well. Each is in his third season, and the coaches have taken their teams to the playoffs in their first two years.

That makes this game about more than just trying to grab a playoff seed; it’s also about pride and tradition.

“We talked long and hard Saturday morning about what it meant to be a part of a program rather than just being on the team,” Shannon said.

“We told them that being part of this program meant trying to get to the playoffs every year and being one of the elite teams in the state. To do that, you have to be a consistent playoff team.

“We also talked to the seniors about their legacy; if they want to be the group that carried on that tradition, or if they would be the group that let the streak die.”