Tuesday, September 13, 2011

SPORTS >> Bears look to build on last week’s win

Leader sportswriter

When Jim Withrow says sparks will fly as his Sylvan Hills team hosts Little Rock Parkview at Bill Blackwood Field this Friday, he may be more facetious than hyperbolic.

“It’s like coach (Nolan) Richardson used to say: ‘We’d like to be riding smooth, but right now, we’re on a tricycle with one wheel,’” Withrow said.

But the Bears, now 1-1, showed great improvement last week in a 20-13 victory over Little Rock Christian Academy after suffering a mistake-prone 45-14 loss at the hands of Vilonia to start the season.

Defense carried the day against the Warriors last week, particularly the secondary, where senior cornerback Javion Ailsworth ended one LRCA drive with an interception and took it back most of the way. Senior DeMarcus Willis also came away with a pick and took it back 88 yards for a touchdown, but it was junior defensive back Michael Neal’s interception that really caught Withrow’s attention.

“He’s as good a player as you’ll see,” Withrow said. “He went up with one hand and simultaneously caught it with their receiver and just took it away from him.”

Withrow credited defensive backs coach Rocky Fawcett for having the secondary ready against Christian’s Spread passing attack.

Turnovers are a concern for the Bears this week against a Patriots team that has capitalized on giveaways in the first two weeks. Parkview started its season with a 39-12 victory over metro rival Mills and defeated Pine Bluff Dollarway 30-14 last Friday.

“We’ve got to take care of the ball,” Withrow said. “We’ve got to have long drives. If we end up giving them the short field, we’re going to be in trouble.”

Strong defensive play is not the only similarity between the two teams. Both have good team speed, and although Parkview is a 6A team and Sylvan Hills 5A, they are close in numbers. In fact, Sylvan Hills started the year with 49 players on its roster compared to 41 for Parkview.

“That’s what it looks like,” Withrow said. “There’s not a whole lot of difference between the 5A and 6A schools if you look at the enrollment numbers. They should have a little more depth, but it’s close.”

The Patriots, under fifth-year coach William Hardiman, are junior strong with quarterback Caelon Harden and tailback Rashad Earls. Defensively, junior linebacker Leonce Eloch and classmate Eric Nathaniel at cornerback lead the opportunistic group.

With a victory already to the Bears’ credit, winning against an impressive Parkview team this week could give them enough momentum to be serious contenders with the start of their 5A-Southeast Conference schedule on the road at White Hall next week.

“I think it’s all about the type of kids you have but for this group, it was a good shot in the arm,” Withrow said. “We had so many people telling us we had to win last week, but you’re conference record is the one that matters.”