By Jason king
Monticello may not be loaded with talent like last year’s 5A state championship team, but the Billies still have enough potency to concern the Sylvan Hills coaching staff.
The Bears (3-4) and the Billies (4-3) are tied for fourth in the 5A-Southeast Conference standings at 2-2, a game behind third-place White Hall.
The Billies have had mixed results through the first month of conference play. They lost to Mills University Studies 36-22 in Week 4, but rebounded the following game with a 47-14 victory over West Helena.
Watson Chapel routed Monticello 49-15 before the Billies returned home last week and beat White Hall 27-17.
The Billies, under first-year coach Greg Tiner, are run-based from their double-slot formation that features wingback Brian Handley. The 5-11, 170-pound senior runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds and carried for almost 1,200 yards last year on a team that featured current Texas Tech freshman Joe Carmical.
“They’ve got that one running back — he’s a stud, he’s good,” Bears coach Jim Withrow said. “They’ll run sweeps with him, and it’s up to us to find a way to contain him and slow down their option game.”
Last week’s 16-8 victory over winless North Pulaski did not end with the same margin many expected for the Bears. Sylvan Hills drove into the red zone a number of times but came up empty handed.
“I think the coaches and kids were all disappointed,” Withrow said. “Wewere down there. We marched it down to the 20 I don’t know how many times. We’ve got to finish off drives. Once you get down there, you may not get there again.”
With road games at West Helena and unbeaten Watson Chapel the final two weeks of the regular season, Friday will most likely be the Bears’ final home game of the year. Even if it reaches the postseason the seeding would likely force Sylvan Hills to play all of its postseason games on the road.
Monticello has 0-7 teams Crossett and North Pulaski left on its conference schedule, making Friday a must-win for Withrow’s team.
“It’s kind of hard to look at the scores and tell how good they are,” Withrow said. “They beat White Hall, and honestly, that’s one I would love to have back and play over again, but they’re a quality football team.
“They just won a state championship, and I know they lost a lot of guys from that team, but they still have a lot of other ones left over from that team.”
West Helena, although mired in sixth place, still has an outside shot at postseason play depending on what happens to the Bears and Billies over the final three weeks. That makes the next two weeks the most vital stretch of Sylvan Hills’ schedule.
“We can decide our fate against other teams that need to win as well,” Withrow said. “We are all kind of in the same boat. This is definitely as huge game for us. Win this, and it gives you a big chance to get a leg up as far as the playoffs.”