Tuesday, September 23, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Bears roll into 5A-Central play

Leader sportswriter

The Sylvan Hills Bears are on a hot streak - opening the 2014 season with a 3-0 record, and at 7 p.m. Friday at Blackwood Field in Sherwood, they’ll look to keep that undefeated streak alive in their first 5A-Central Conference game of the season against Mills University Studies.

Sylvan Hills’ offense has been hitting on all cylinders since the regular season began, having scored at least 40 points in all three wins, but the defense has progressed mightily as well.

Last week against Class 4A Newport, who’s the favorite to win its conference, the Bears’ defense held the highly-potent Greyhound offense to just nine points in the Bears’ 48-9 rout of the Hounds.

“I think we’re progressing about as well as we can,” said Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow. “You’re always looking for room for improvement, but right now I think our defense is playing better. We’re starting to understand our roles, and offensively, I think we’re getting to where we want to be.

“So I think we’re progressing at a pretty good rate, but there are still some things we want to get better at.”

Mills, on the other hand, mostly struggled in its nonconference games, and as a result, the Comets enter Friday’s conference opener with a 1-2 overall record.

The Comets lost their week-one game against Little Rock Parkview, 25-0. Their first win came in week two against hapless Little Rock Hall. They won that game, 28-0, and last week against Class 4A Star City, the Bulldogs won by a comfortable 56-25 margin.

“Their identity has always been an option offense, and I don’t think they’ve got an option quarterback,” Withrow said of Mills. “They have more of a pro-style quarterback. With that, you’ve got to change your identity a little bit, and I think they’ve had a little bit of a problem with that.”

Only six starters return from last year’s Comets team that finished 9-3 and advanced to the second round of the 5A state playoffs. Race Rodgers (6-1, 175) is the Comets’ QB this season. Rodgers saw very little playing time last season, having broken his collarbone twice; both times coming in exhibition games.

The Comets switched their offense from the Flexbone to the Power I this season, and the reason for that is senior tailback Calen Peters (5-10, 195). Peters has 4.6 speed, and he ran for more than 700 yards in 2013.

Last week against Star City, who has two Division-I caliber defensive tackles, Peters ran 21 times for 130 yards and four TDs.

“They’ve got a nice tailback,” Withrow said of Peters. “Calen Peters is their tailback, and he looks as good as any tailback we’ve seen all year. I mean, he can really run.”

Mills also has some big guys blocking for Peters up front. The Comets have two linemen that weigh at least 325 pounds and four that weigh at least 265, including two that are in the 285-pound class.

“They open up some nice holes,” Withrow said. “Their right tackle and right guard have done a pretty good job.”

Defensively, Withrow says the Comets have strayed from their usual 4-2 defense, and have switched to a 3-3 stack defense.

“On tape it’s been a 30 front,” Withrow said, “and it’s different from what they’ve had in the past. Again, it’s a change in their philosophy. That’s what we’ve seen the last two games. That’s what they had in the third game.

“They’ve been in a 3-3 stack, so that’s kind of what we’re going to prepare for, but we’ve gotten a feel from everything. Newport gave us all sorts of defenses. So I think we’re kind of prepared for about everything, but we’re going to look at the 3-3 stack.”

Even though the Bears have had a great start to their season, this week is when the real season begins, meaning every game for the remainder of the regular season has playoff implications, and Withrow and his team are well aware of that.

“This is when the season begins,” Withrow said. “Everything else really doesn’t matter. I’ve been 0-3, 2-1, 1-2 and everything else, and it really doesn’t matter. It kind of gets you engaged to where you want to be, but it’s these seven weeks right here that are going to define your season.

“The guys understand that. There’s a real sense of urgency and we need to understand that if you want to do anything (in the postseason), it starts this week.”