Tuesday, September 02, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Bears set for tough challenge at Vilonia

Leader sports editor

Sylvan Hills faces a familiar opponent that won’t be so familiar when it travels to Vilonia on Friday to open the football season. The Bears and Eagles are used to playing each other, but the Eagles have changed to a new scheme this season, or rather, to an old one.

After a two-year experiment with the spread offense, Eagle coach Jim Stanley has gone back to his old double-wing offense that got his squad to the state championship game a few years ago.

The move away from the spread was not a big surprise to Sylvan Hills coaches, but there was some surprise when they saw the Eagles face Newport, another Sylvan Hills opponent, in a scrimmage game last week.

“We kind of expected the switch back to the double wing,” said Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow. “What we didn’t expect was they changed defenses, too. They’ve gone to a three-man front so we’ve sort of had to adjust on the fly to that. But we’ve had plenty of time to work on it, and I think it might actually help us in the long run.”

Still, that two-tight, double-wing formation that features so much misdirection is a big concern for Withrow. While it used to be common, it’s not anymore, and can be difficult for players not used to seeing it. It’s also an extremely physical style of football, more physical than the spread formations used by most schools these days.

“They’re hard-nosed kids and they just come right at you,” Withrow said. “It’s hard, in this day and age, to get your kids acclimated to it. It’s hard to mimic in practice. It makes it tough. I think it’s really smart for them to go back to it. They’re good at it. Coach Stanley is a really good football coach who is good at coaching it. It’s going to be a challenge.”

Vilonia suffered more than a dozen season-ending injuries to starters last year, a team that started the season with very high expectations. That team finished 3-7, including a season-opening 31-16 loss to Sylvan Hills. But those injuries mean this team returns several players who were starters by the end of that season.

Newport drove the ball easily on its first drive and scored quickly, while the Vilonia offense sputtered early on. But the half of scrimmage play ended in a 7-7 tie.

“It took them a while to get going, but once they did they looked pretty good,” Withrow said.

“Newport is supposed to be really good this year, and after that first drive, Vilonia pretty much shut them down. Same thing on offense. They started slow but by the end they were moving the ball.

“They just wear you down. You’ve got to match how physical they are because if you don’t, they’re going to wear you out. It’s going to be a tough challenge,” he said.