Wednesday, October 07, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Sylvan Hills wary of 1-4 Red Devils

Leader sports editor

A quick glance at the season records, and one might assume this week’s 5A-Central matchup between Sylvan Hills and Jacksonville will be a one-sided affair. The Bears host the Red Devils at Blackwood Field, and have a perfect win-loss record, two new school records for yards in a single game and the state’s most prolific scoring offense awaiting the visiting Red Devils.

Jacksonville brings a 1-4 record into Sherwood and is coming off a gut-wrenching 13-12 loss last week to Beebe on homecoming night.

None of that means anything to Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow.

He sees Jacksonville as a very dangerous opponent.

“Sometimes you get a certain record and people think you’re something you’re not,” said Withrow. “I don’t look at 1-4, I look at Jacksonville and I see a dangerous team. You look at who they’ve played, teams like Benton, who is a dog gone good 6A team. You look at Little Rock Christian, who’s the No. 2 team in the state in 5A. And then you just consider that it’s a rivalry game. It always seems like it’s close just from that aspect. So we’re approaching this game like it’s the best team we’ve played so far this year.”

Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham doesn’t have to be so analytical to see the challenge in front of his team. Through five games, Sylvan Hills is averaging 55 points and almost 600 yards of offense per game.

“They’ve just got speed, speed everywhere,” said Hickingbotham of the Bears. “I’m not so sure the quarterback they’ve got this year isn’t a lot better than the one they had last year. And he was a good one. Looks like they’ve got about a half dozen different guys that can run it. But you can’t load up on that because that quarterback can throw it, and he’s got a couple of receivers who can go up and get it. It’s going to be a tremendous, tremendous challenge for us. We’re going to have to play mistake-free football, and that’s something we’ve struggled with.”

Jacksonville had eliminated a lot of mistakes for three quarters last week, and it held a 12-0 lead with 11 minutes to play. But those mistakes came flooding back in the fourth quarter. Still leading 12-6, a punt snap sailed over Tyler Hooper’s head and resulted in a Badger touchdown that set the final margin with 6:49 to go.

The Red Devils’ next two possessions also ended in turnovers, one fumble after a long gain, and an interception in the end zone with 1:30 remaining that ruined a nice 10-play drive.

Jacksonville was also called for 10 penalties for 85 yards last week. One penalty negated a 60-yard punt return, and four of the penalties came in the fourth quarter, including a holding penalty right before the final interception that turned a first down into second and 19.

“The mistakes are something we’ve got to clean up,” Hickingbotham said. “Sylvan Hills will make you pay. And it’s not just the players. I wish now I’d have gone for it on fourth down (before the high snap).

“But I think our defense took a big step forward. Coach (Brian) McDermott and coach (Larry) Burrows and coach (Jim) Stanley did a great job getting those guys ready for that offense. This week is a whole different challenge. We were in this same situation last year and we fought our way to the playoffs. We’ve still got goals we can accomplish.”

The head Bear also noticed Jacksonville’s improvement, and doesn’t like that it coincided with what he felt was a sloppy effort by his squad last week, in spite of the fact that the Bears beat J.A. Fair 54-0.

“We made some mistakes and didn’t do some things we’d been doing on Friday,” Withrow said. “The offensive line played its worst game of the year, and coach (Denny) Tipton addressed that with them pretty firmly.

“And here’s the thing. You can’t get sloppy. I felt like we got a little sloppy this time last season, and Jacksonville almost jumped up and got us. We had the same records last year and they took us to the wire. And here’s another thing, and this is a testament to those coaches, they get better as the year goes on. They did it last year and it looks like they’re doing it again. You can’t get sloppy when you’re facing a team you know is improving. And heck it’s Jacksonville, so you know they’ve got athletes.”

The Bears and Red Devils kick off at 7 p.m.