Tuesday, October 14, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Bears pressed hard by Devils

Leader sports editor

Certain pundits said it would be a mercy rule. If they’d have bet winner vs. loser, they would’ve been right. If they had bet the line, they would’ve lost the house. The third-ranked Sylvan Hills Bears got out of Jan Crow Stadium with their lives Saturday night, escaping the 1-4 Jacksonville Red Devils with a 28-22 victory to remain undefeated.

“I didn’t expect it to be easy,” said Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow. “I don’t really care what other people said. It’s a rivalry game and it’s always tough to come in here and get a win. I’m happy we’re leaving here with a win.”

The game was stopped with 9:36 remaining in the second quarter on Friday due to severe weather with the score tied 7-7. It resumed at 7 p.m. Saturday and remained a back-and-forth contest.

When play resumed, Sylvan Hills faced third and 16 from its own 14-yard line. Quarterback Tra Doss, who didn’t start on Friday because of an ankle injury, hit Nathan Thomas for 18 yards, the first of a game-high eight catches for the Sylvan Hills senior.

He caught two more passes on that drive, that ended with Doss scrambling for 10 yards and a touchdown with 6:57 left in the first half. Zac Brown’s extra point put the Bears up 14-7.

Jacksonville answered right back. When play stopped on Friday, Red Devil tailback Lamont Gause had carried 16 times out Jacksonville’s 18 plays. When play resumed, the Red Devils still handed to Gause frequently, but went to the air a lot more, and with a lot more success than it had enjoyed in previous games.

On the third play of Jacksonville’s first drive on Saturday, quarterback Brandon Hickingbotham hit Laderrious Perry for 21 yards. A facemask penalty two plays later put the ball at the Sylvan Hills 34, but Hickingbotham fumbled the snap on the next play for a 7-yard loss. He got 12 back two plays later with a completion to Jonathan Hall, leaving the Devils with fourth and 5.

Hickingbotham then hit Courtland McDonald at the goal line, where the senior pulled down the pass and fell into the end zone. Jacksonville missed the extra point, leaving the Bears with a one-point lead.

A short kick and good return set the Bears up at the Jacksonville 48, and they needed just five plays to score again. Doss hit running back Fred Williams for 15 yards on the second play. He then scrambled for 31 yards to the 2-yard line on play three. Two plays later, Doss hit tight end Elijah Sowards on a rollout right with 1:59 remaining in the first half. The PAT made it 21-13.

Jacksonville went three and out on the ensuing possession and the Bears got it first in the second half. Desperately needing a stop, Jacksonville finally got it just before the Bears reached the end zone. After 10 plays, Sylvan Hills faced fourth and 1 at the Jacksonville 7-yard line. From there, McDonald, from the defensive end position, busted another rollout attempt and dropped Doss for a 6-yard loss, giving Jacksonville possession at its own 13.

Gause then took a pitch left for 40 yards down the visitors’ sideline on first down. Hickingbotham then hit Avery Wells for 14 yards and in two plays the Red Devils were on the Bears’ 33. Two more runs by Gause led to third and 5, and Hickingbotham hit McDonald again, this time for 26 yards to set up first and goal at the 2.

The Red Devils lined up in the Dead T gained nothing in two plays, then threw incomplete on third down, making it fourth and goal. Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham rolled the dice and went for it – a sweep right to Gause who scored, but the PAT missed again, leaving it 21-19.

The Bears then put together a 14-play, 90-yard drive that consisted almost entirely of passes to Thomas and runs by Williams. But the last play was a sweep right to Marlon Clemmons for 9 yards and the game’s final touchdown with 10:27 left in the game. Brown’s fourth extra point made it 28-19.

Brandon Hickingbotham completed his first three pass attempts of the ensuing drive for 46 yards, and Gause carried three times for 25 yards to set up first and goal at the 9, but an incomplete pass and a Hickingbotham fumble left the Red Devils with fourth and goal from the 14. From there Herrmann hit a 31-yard field goal to set the final margin with six minutes remaining.

The Bears then put together another 14-play drive. They reached the Jacksonville 13-yard line, but two penalties, one of which negated a 17-yard touchdown run by Clemmons, left the Bears with third and 28 from the 31-yard line.

Clemmons got 7 yards back, but two pass breakups by Stevie Eskridge gave the Red Devils the ball on their own 24 with 1:13 left.

That, however, changed when the Red Devils were flagged for a dead ball unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that moved it back to the 12. It turned out to be a huge penalty.

Jacksonville got to the Sylvan Hills 40 with 17 seconds left, but the game ended with three incomplete passes in the end zone.

“We played hard for four quarters,” said coach Barry Hickingbotham. “We just have to do some of the small things better. The sweep right killed us. We have to wrap up and tackle better. And that penalty at the end, all things being equal, we’re trying to complete a 25-yard pass at the end instead of a 40-yarder. It hurts man. These kids played their guts out the last two weeks. We just have to play smarter. I’m ready to see them rewarded for their effort.”

Sylvan Hills totaled 459 yards of offense to 310 for Jacksonville. Despite the injury, Doss carried nine times for 102 yards and one touchdown, and completed 15 of 23 pass attempts for 161 yards and a score. Clemmons added 110 yards from scrimmage. He carried 14 times for 98 yards and two touchdowns and caught two passes for 12 yards. Williams posted 122 yards from scrimmage with 19 carries for 91 yards and three receptions for 31. Thomas caught eight passes for 78 yards for the Bears.

Gause carried 29 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Hickingbotham completed 13 of 21 pass attempts to seven different receivers for 199 yards and one touchdown. McDonald caught two passes for 55 yards and Perry caught four for 55.

Jacksonville travels to No. 2 ranked Pulaski Academy next week while the Bears host North Pulaski. Pulaski Academy beat Beebe 65-36 on Friday, while the Falcons dropped J.A. Fair 27-8 in a rain-delayed game that concluded Monday.