Tuesday, October 28, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Bears hosting Badgers in big 5A-Central game

Leader sports editor

Eight games down and only two are left in the regular season, and playoff scenarios begin to take shape. There are still several possibilities remaining in the 5A-Central, but this weekend’s matchup between Beebe and Sylvan Hills will be huge in determining which ones of those could still play out after nine games.

The Badgers travel to Sylvan Hills’ Blackwood Field for a 7 p.m. kickoff between two teams who, at the beginning of the season, were considered among the three heavy favorites to finish at the top of the league standings.

And even though Beebe has two conference losses, including an upset loss in overtime to McClellan, the Badgers could still finish as high as second place. Sylvan Hills is currently undefeated at 8-0 and 5-0 in league standings, but could still win an outright conference championship, or finish as low as a four seed. And there are numerous possibilities in between.

What matters this week, for both teams, is this week.

Beebe (3-5, 3-2) has endured what was a disastrous first half of the season. Almost half its starters have missed at least a game this season, and 16 turnovers in the first four games got the Badgers off to a 0-4 start, including the loss to McClellan – when Beebe turned it over on the first play of overtime.

The Badgers have only turned it over twice since then and have gone 3-1. They will also be as close to full strength as they have been all season when they take on the Bears.

“We had pretty much everybody we planned on having last week,” said Beebe coach John Shannon. “We were able to sit our starters at halftime and get them some more rest heading into this game. And we need them all because this is a big one.”

Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow believes he’s catching the Badgers at their best, but was glad to have played McClellan last week. The Lions run the same Dead T offense as Beebe much of the time, which gave his defensive players a clue what to expect this week at home.

“I think it helped us, I definitely do,” said Withrow. “McClellan doesn’t do it all the time and I don’t think they’re as refined at it as Beebe is, but it always helps. It’s very difficult to give your starters that kind of a look in practice.”

One key difference, besides refinement, is size.

“McClellan had some big boys out there but looking at Beebe on film, it looks like they’re guys are tall, too,” Withrow said. “I don’t know if we’ve seen an offensive line as big as theirs this year.”

Conversely, Shannon was equally impressed with Sylvan Hills’ offensive line.

“Everybody knows about and will tell you about their quarterback, and those two running backs and that wide receiver, but what jumped out on film to me was that line,” Shannon said. “It’s probably the best offensive line we’ve seen all year. They have a lot to do with all those skill players getting all those yards and points they’ve been getting.”

Beebe’s defensive approach will be one akin to defending the option, because Shannon believes Sylvan Hills is basically an option team.

“Even though they line up in the spread, it’s really like an option team,” Shannon said. “We have to play sound defense and play our responsibilities. We have to play good assignment football and then we have to be able to tackle. They get a lot of yards after contact because those skill players are so good. We have to be sure tacklers and not let that happen.”

Withrow believes his defense continues to improve each week. It started the season with only three returning starters, compared to 10 on offense. But after a week-two shootout with Hot Springs Lakeside, the defense hasn’t yielded that many points. Last week’s 28 to McClellan was the most since Lakeside, and the Lions’ special teams scored one of those touchdowns.

“I think they’re getting better with every game,” Withrow said. “But I think this will be one of our toughest challenges. We just have to go out there and keep getting better.”

Beebe’s offensive approach won’t change. Shannon expects yards to be hard-fought, but hopes his team can capitalize on Sylvan Hills’ propensity to take risks.

“They’re aggressive,” Shannon said. “They give you different looks, shoot gaps and try to give you a bad play. Hopefully we can pop a few big ones, take advantage of that and get them to play a little more honest.”

Getting Sylvan Hills to play more honest could mean longer, more time consuming drives for Beebe, which is a weekly goal for the Badgers.

“We need to get some stops and get the ball to our offense, or they’ll keep it away from you the whole game,” Withrow said.