Tuesday, November 06, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Bears face high-flying Panthers

Leader sportswriter

Luck is a good thing to have on your side when it comes to trying to secure a playoff seed, especially when it comes to a conference as unpredictable as the 5A Central.

Sylvan Hills got a little luck when McClellan upset Little Rock Christian Academy in week 10 of the regular season. But the Bears’ good fortune ran out when it came to first-round draws.

They must face a 10-0 Greenbrier team on the road this week. The Panthers have a high-powered spread offense that averages 41.4 points per game under fifth-year coach Randy Tribble.

“They look like they are very well coached,” Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow said. “The quarterback is extremely intelligent, and the defense does a good job of keeping people in front of them.”

Sylvan Hills has improved dramatically since losing key league games earlier in the season that put the Bears behind in the postseason chase, and their luck hasn’t been bad either.

The Bears took care of business in week 10 with a 42-16 victory over North Pulaski, and got the help they needed elsewhere when Little Rock McClellan pulled off a major upset over Little Rock Christian to hand Sylvan Hills the No. 4 seed out of the Central conference.

The Bears (5-5) and Panthers (10-0) will get the Class 5A playoffs underway at Don Jones Stadium this Friday at 7 p.m.

The Panthers defense has been a bend-but-don’t-break unit all season, and has given up an average of 19 points per game.

“That’s one of the things we noticed,” Withrow said. “One of the things we’ve got to do is sustain drives and keep our offense on the field. I think we’ve played better each and every week.”

The Bears had little trouble against local rival North Pulaski last week with a dominating offensive performance that included over 100 yards rushing for senior running back Ashton Brown. Sophomore Marlen Clemmons backed up Brown’s performance with solid running of his own.

“I thought the kids up front played real well,” Withrow said. “Ashton and Marlen both ran the ball well, and we did a good job defensively. We didn’t give up any big plays.”

The Bears accomplished all that without the services of junior linebacker Kylan Wade, who was held out of the Falcons game with an injury. Wade is expected to be cleared and return to action this week.

Sylvan Hills let a few winnable games slip out of its grasp earlier in the season, most notably a 28-0 loss to Christian to begin 5A Central play in week 4. But since then, the progress has been evident to Withrow over the past month.

“There have been a few disappointments,” Withrow said. “When you look at Little Rock Christian, but other than that, we’ve been better on the whole. I’ve been pleased with the kids, and I think once we solidified what were trying to do on offense, things got a lot better.”

The winner between Sylvan Hills and Greenbrier will go on to the second round of the Class 5A state playoffs and face the winner between Batesville and Hot Springs Lakeside this Friday.