Tuesday, September 01, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Bears put offensive doubts to rest

Leader sports editor

Preseason concerns about a brand new offensive line were emphatically put to rest for Sylvan Hills on Monday. The Bears racked up a school record 657 yards of offense en route to a 62-28 blowout of Vilonia in the 103.7 The Buzz Kickoff Classic at War Memorial Stadium.

The Bears scored the first six times they had the ball, moving the football effortlessly against the Eagles’ defense. And they did it on the ground and through the air. Sylvan Hills provided a minor surprise by lining up with an empty backfield and five wide on the first play.

Quarterback Jordan Washington stood firm in the pocket in the face of an unblocked blitzer to deliver a 16-yard strike to Cameron Sharp for a first down.

Two plays later he kept for a 22-yard gain up the middle to set up first down at the Vilonia 27. After another first down, Sylvan Hills went backwards with a 3-yard loss and two incomplete passes. On fourth and 13, another pass play broke down, but Washington scrambled for the necessary yardage to set up first and goal at the 2.

Sophomore Ty Compton plunged it in from there, becoming the first of four sophomores to score touchdowns for the Bears in the first half.

“I told you early this summer that I liked our skill guys,” said Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow. “We’ve got some playmakers. The offensive line was a concern, but I think it’s a matter of these guys staying with the program and getting better every year. We’re not young up front, but we’re inexperienced. Those guys did a great job tonight.”

Vilonia managed two first downs before failing on fourth and 7 to give the Bears possession on their own 20. On third and 6, Washington hit sophomore receiver Ryan Lumpkin streaking down the right sideline for a 76-yard touchdown connection with 6:03 left in the first quarter. Tito Mendoza’s second extra point attempt was good, giving the Bears a 13-0 lead. Vilonia started at its own 24 and ran 12 plays down to the Bears’ 23, but another failed fourth-down conversion turned the ball over there.

Sylvan Hills sophomore Dion Youngblood busted loose up the middle for 51 yards on the first play of the drive, and got 11 more on the second play. Compton picked up 8 before Washington kept for the last 10 and another touchdown that made it 20-0 with 1:04 left in the first quarter.

The Eagles once again ran 10 plays to within the Sylvan Hills 30, but again turned the ball over on downs when quarterback Ty Gordon’s shotgun keeper picked up 2 yards on fourth and 3.

On the very next play, Washington connected with senior Brandon Bracely for 68 yards to the Vilonia 7-yard line. Two plays later, Youngblood bulled his way 5 yards into the end zone for a 27-0 lead with 9:33 remaining in the first half.

Vilonia went three and out on its next possession and punted. Sylvan Hills then went 63 yards in seven plays, highlighted by a 20-yard run by Youngblood to set up first and goal at the 1. Sophomore Daelyn Fairrow did the rest and a successful two-point conversion made it a mercy-rule margin of 35-0 with 5:33 left in the half.

But the mercy rule would never happen.

Vilonia faced third and 12 when Gordon found receiver Josh Greer well behind his man for a 52-yard touchdown pass with 3:21 left in the half.

Despite the time left, each team would get two more possessions as those final three minutes took 33 minutes to play.

Sylvan Hills went for it on fourth and 1 from its own 34 and lost a yard, but Vilonia also went four and out, giving it back to the Bears at the 34. After an illegal procedure penalty, Sylvan Hills caught a huge break.

Washington hit Lumpkin over the middle. He gained about 10 more yards after the catch before fumbling at the Vilonia 35-yard line. But the ball bounced straight to Bracely, who scooped it up and ran the rest of the way for the score. Mendoza’s extra point made it 42-7 with 47 seconds remaining in the first half.

But there would still be no mercy rule, thanks mostly to Sylvan Hills penalties. Vilonia went 70 yards in 10 plays, but 40 of those yards were the result of two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and one pass interference against the Bears. Vilonia scored on the last play of the half to keep the mercy rule clock from running to start the second half.

“There are going to be things, when we watch film, that we should have done better,” Withrow said. “And that’s something right there. When you have a team mercy ruled, you need to go ahead and mercy rule them. They came real close to getting right back in it in the second half.”

Defenses dominated the third quarter as the first four possessions of the second half produced no points. Vilonia finally scored with 1:23 left in the third period, again thanks largely to Sylvan Hills penalties. A pass interference penalty gave Vilonia a first down on the Bears’ 15. After two plays gained just 2 yards and set up third and 8, back-to-back offsides penalties gave Vilonia first and goal at the 3. Wade Richards scored the touchdown and added the two-point conversion to make it 42-22.

Sylvan Hills went 28 yards in just three plays, but Washington fumbled after a 15-yard gain and Vilonia’s Jacob Otto picked it up and returned to the Sylvan Hills 37, but the Bears’ defense came up big.

Vilonia gained nothing in three plays. On fourth and 10, a counter run fooled most of the defense and initially looked like it would pick up the first down. Vilonia’s Nick Howard took the handoff with three blockers in front of him and only one Sylvan Hills defender in sight. But all three blockers ran inside of Payton Terry, who made a huge open-field tackle after just a 4-yard gain to save what would’ve been a big gain.

Washington went 0 for 3 through the air on the next three plays, but Vilonia fumbled the punt and Cameron Flippo covered it for the Bears at the Vilonia 30.

Bracely dragged defenders for the last 10 of a 26-yard gain on first down, and Washington kept for the last 4. Mendoza’s PAT made it 49-22 with 11:36 remaining.

Flippo intercepted Gordon on the third play of the ensuing drive, setting the Bears up at the Vilonia 19.

Sylvan Hills’ second-team offense took over with 10:07 remaining in the game and scored in four plays. Jamar Porter carried up the middle for the final 8 yards and the extra point made it 56-22 with 8:32 left.

After a 55-yard kickoff return set Vilonia up on the Bears’ 29, Vilonia scored in six plays against Sylvan Hills’ second-team defense.

The extra point was no good, leaving it 56-28 with 6:15 left.

Sylvan Hills’ last touchdown came on a 44-yard run by Fairrow with 3:57 remaining in the game, but Mendoza missed the extra point to keep the mercy rule clock from running.

Washington ran 11 times for 105 yards while Bracely carried eight times for 91 and Youngblood seven times for 75 yards. Washington only completed 6 of 14 pass attempts, but four of the eight incompletions were drops.

“We can catch the ball better than we did tonight,” Withrow said. “That’s another thing. But heck, you can’t complain when you score 62 points.”

Lumpkin had 112 yards receiving while Bracely had 104.

Vilonia’s rapid offense snapped the ball 81 times for 372 yards and 23 first downs. But the Eagles were just 3 for 16 on third down and 3 for 8 on fourth down tries.