By todd traub
Leader sports editor
When you’re trying to build up a downtrodden program, you sometimes start with the smallest of building blocks.
So it is that winless North Pulaski, playing host to winless Crossett this week, is taking heart from the fact it led for the first time this season at Sylvan Hills last week.
“We’re approaching it like every other week,” coach Terrod Hatcher said. “We’ve just got to pull out a win. We missed a tough one last week.
Sylvan Hills won the 5A-Southeast Conference game 16-8, but it was one of the most competitive contests North Pulaski has played all year. For a brief, shining moment, after a safety and then Shyheim Barron’s 1-yard touchdown run, the Falconseven led, 8-7, with 3:14 left in the first half.
“I think we’ll move well this week,” Hatcher said. “I think we’re building, getting better.”
Sylvan Hills led 7-0 when the Bears’ Nate Clark fell on a low snap in the end zone for a North Pulaski safety with 4:09 left. The Falcons’ Nick Dunn then dropped the free kick but picked it up and returned it 53 yards to the Bears’ 2 to set up Barron’s run.
But Sylvan Hills scored the game’s remaining points, on a six-yard run by Trey Bone on the ensuing possession and on a field goal by Kevin Wang late in the third quarter.
Still, North Pulaski was within eight points and was at the Sylvan Hills 35 on the last play of the third quarter. But the fourth began with a North Pulaski holding penalty, followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty followed by an interception, and the game ended with the Falcons in Bears territory but out of timeouts.
Hatcher said afterward that North Pulaski wouldn’t win until it cut out the mental mistakes. He can accept hustle mistakes or mistakes made on the side of aggressiveness, Hatcher said, but not meltdowns that led to 15-yard penalties.
“You try to practice those situations,” Hatcher said. “Put pressure on them, see how they react. Of course it’s almost impossible to simulate game time. It’s just trying to get them to prepare as much as we can.”
The Falcons scored their most points last week since getting a season-high 12 in a Week 2 loss to Oak Grove.
With starting quarterback Barron relegated to running back and defense duty because of a broken thumb, North Pulaski rotated three quarterbacks, Derrick Hart, normally a running back, Kari Watson and Austin Allen.
Each threw an interception, but the trio’s differing skills also got results, keeping Sylvan Hills off balance at times and moving the ball.
“It worked out pretty well,” Hatcher said. “I think us rotating those guys, we were able to use their strength. Not having Shyheim hurts a little bit.”
Barron, with a heavy cast on his right hand and wrist, had his moments with a handful of carries and he did score the Falcons’ touchdown.
“He played extremely well,” Hatcher said. “He played good for us where he is. He’s helping us out playing defense now.”
While the Falcons (0-7, 0-4) have shown signs of life, they certainly aren’t taking Crossett (0-7, 0-4) for granted. Crossett is allowing an average 41.3 points a game and scoring 10.6 while North Pulaski is allowing an average 39 points a game and scoring 5.9.
“I think we’ve just got to concentrate a little better,” Hatcher said. “I think our mental aspect is not there yet. We’re putting together the pieces.”
But it will certainly help that this weeks’ game is at home, Hatcher said.
“I think it will be good,” Hatcher said. “We don’t have to travel. I think when we have to travel that far it takes something out of us.”