Tuesday, September 16, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Bears ready to open their new field against Newport

Leader sportswriter

Sylvan Hills couldn’t have asked for a bigger game to play in its home opener Friday at 7 p.m. The 2-0 Bears will play host to 2-0 Newport of Class 4A in the final nonconference game of the regular season on the brand new turf surface at Bill Blackwood Field.

Friday’s matchup between the Bears and Greyhounds is arguably the state’s game of the week, and has all the capabilities of being the most exciting. It will feature two highly-potent offenses that are capable of breaking big play after big play after big play.

The Bears’ offense has been hitting on all cylinders since its week one win over Vilonia. Sylvan Hills won that game, 41-18, and the Bears also eclipsed the 40-point mark in their win over Hot Springs Lakeside last week.

The Bears beat Lakeside, 48-35, and racked up 453 yards of offense. Newport has already beaten two 5A teams to start the season. The Hounds beat Nettleton, 46-31, in week one, and handed Greene County Tech a 38-7 defeat last week.

Newport beat Sylvan Hills, 30-13, last year, and Bears’ coach Jim Withrow knows what the Greyhounds will bring Friday.

“They’re a very, very explosive group,” said Withrow. “It looks like they’ve got five, six or seven guys that can play in college. They look good. Their tailback, he’s a high level Division I tailback, and they’ve got everything to go with it.

“Their quarterback is very solid, and defensively, they’ve got a safety back there that looks like Troy Polamalu the way he plays. He goes 100 miles per hour and he is laying the wood.”

Like the Bears, Newport is a Spread team and has plenty of experience operating it. The Hounds finished 2013 with a 9-3 record and are favored to win their conference this year with seven returning starters on both sides of the ball, and a three-year starter at quarterback.

Gunnar Bullard (6-0, 175) threw for 2,205 yards and 19 TDs as a junior and junior tailback Carl Turner is in his third season with the high school team. He ran for a whopping 1,709 yards and 13 TDs as a freshman, and ran for 1,038 yards last season on an injured foot.

Turner is healthy this season, and has already impressed. Last week against GCT, Turner ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries, and he returned an interception 57 yards for a score late in the first half.

“He looks a lot faster than he did last year,” Withrow said of Turner. “He looks a lot more mobile than he was last year. You do this long enough you know a Division I tailback when you see one, and he’s a Division I tailback, no doubt.”

Bullard also had a good game against GCT. He ran for an 8-yard score and threw a 47-yard touchdown pass.

Withrow said the outcome of last year’s game between the two schools started at the line of scrimmage, where the Greyhounds were a lot more physical than his team was that night.

Defensively, Withrow said he expects Newport to give his offense, which returns eight starters from a season ago, multiple looks up front, and is expecting that Greyhound defense to blitz a lot.

“I think they’re going to give us multiple fronts,” Withrow said. “They’ll blitz a lot – put a lot of pressure on us. We’ve got to be ready for the blitz, and there are a lot of different ways to handle it.

“We’ve just got to execute,” Withrow said. “If we can execute, I think we can put ourselves in a good spot. If we don’t execute, we’re going to be playing behind all night.”

With all the hype around Friday’s game, Withrow believes the game will be a playoff-style showdown.

“Personally, I think this will be just like a playoff game,” Withrow said. “This will have the intensity of a playoff game. This will have the athletes as far as being a playoff game. That’s the thing about it, you want to play in the playoffs and you want to succeed in the playoffs, you need to win this game.”