By Jason King
The 5A-Southeast Conference schedule does not lighten up any for the Sylvan Hills Bears this week.
The Bears (1-3, 0-1) will go on the road to face unbeaten Mills University Studies Friday at Mills Stadium. The Comets (4-0, 1-0) are ranked 10th in 5A by Hooten’s Arkansas Football and are one of only four unbeaten teams in the classification.
All-state quarterback Chris Hampton leads the Comets with a Wishbone option attack that netted the senior almost 1,100 yards rushing last year.
“I think without a doubt he’s the best quarterback in the conference, if not the state,” Bears coach Jim Withrow said. “He runs the option very well.”
The Bears defense has given up an average 31.8 points a game through the first month, including 28 points in a loss to White Hall last week in their league opener.
When it comes to defending Hampton and the Mills offense, Withrow said there is no room for blown coverage.
“It gets down to assignment football,” Withrow said. “Who’s got the quarterback — who’s got the pitch man? It takes a lot of practice and a lot of discipline to do that. It’s not easy to do. We talk about the option every week, but they run it quite a bit.”
Stalled drives on the offensive side have done little to help the defense, giving opponents good field position on multiple occasions. The offense has put together drives, but many have come up short once the Bears get near the 20.
Withrow wants to get into the end zone more often and also wants to see an improvement on special teams.
“Finishing drives once you get there and moving the chains — we have to improve on all of it,” Withrow said. “We’re punting too much and trying to do stuff with our kickoff team that’s not very effective. We can’t kick it deep down there.
“Our defense has issues, but boy, we sure do put them in bad spots as well.”
One thing in the Bears’ favor this week is the return of defensive lineman Alex Smith, 6-1, 250 pounds. Smith comes back a week after the return of offensive skill player Nate Clark, who made some of Sylvan Hills’ bigger plays last week against White Hall.
“That will help,” Withrow said. “Things like that hurt us because we don’t have a ton of depth. Hopefully, with everybody back, we should be okay.”
Withrow coached Mills seven seasons before coming to Sylvan Hills in 2007.
Friday will mark his second trip to his old stomping grounds wearing Bears blue, but Withrow said the awkwardness has passed or has been suppressed by the simple desire to win.
“The first year or two, that was really kind of strange,” Withrow said. “Now that the kids have turned over and I don’t know them as much, it’s not quite the same.
“It is strange knowing a lot of the faculty and personnel there, but the first thing on my mind is winning a conference game.”