Wednesday, November 04, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Pressure off when SH Bears meet PA

Leader sports editor

Sylvan Hills is mired in a two-game losing streak and nothing gets easier for the Bears in the regular-season finale. Sylvan Hills hosts Pulaski Academy for a 7 p.m. kickoff. The Bruins are the undefeated, No. 1 ranked defending state champions. They are currently riding a 22-game win streak and have not lost since week one of the 2014 season.

Sylvan Hills won its first six games of the year, but have lost its last two to McClellan and Beebe.

Sylvan Hills experienced a similar drought last season when it lost the last three games of the year after starting 8-0. There is one difference to this year’s drought. The Bears have nothing on the line in this week’s game. No matter the outcome, Sylvan Hills is the four seed from the 5A-Central in the playoffs. So there should be no pressure, unlike last year’s game when the Bears took a new quarterback into a road game with a conference championship on the line.

Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow likes the way his team has responded in practices since last week’s loss to Beebe. There are no signs that the team has lost any motivation after two disappointing weeks.

“They were mad,” said Withrow of his team’s attitude at the first practice after the Beebe game. “They were upset and they were wanting to fix it and move on. You’d rather have that than a bunch of guys that act like they don’t care.”

Sylvan Hills’ offense is still as potent as ever. After five games, the Bears led the state in scoring offense. They suffered a six-turnover, 17-penalty game and still beat Jacksonville 29-14 on Oct. 9. After that was an open date, and Sylvan Hills has not won since.

PA presents a completely different challenge than McClellan and Beebe, and even though the Bruins beat both of those teams, the Bears believe it could be a better matchup for them.

“I can tell you this, there’s no sign of fear in them,” Withrow said of his players. “They believe they can win this game. I believe we can score on anybody. We just have to cut out the mistakes. You hate to put yourself in bad situations, but I feel like both games (the two losses) came down to one drive.”

Sylvan Hills fell behind by three scores to McClellan and Beebe. Both times, the Bears got back to their explosive playmaking. They pulled to within one score in both games, and both times got a turnover to take possession with a chance to take the lead. And both times penalties bogged down the progress and the Bears were forced to punt.

“You really think that if we just keep it clicking, keep executing, they can’t stop us,” Withrow said. “We shot ourselves in the foot in both games. It’s frustrating.”

Beebe and McClellan are both big teams that run the ball 90 percent of the time. Pulaski Academy passes on almost every play, which also sets up big runs when they call the draw to super-quick tailback Jaren Watkins.

Tre Bruce is another big-time threat that will line up at quarterback, running back and receiver.

“You pretty much have to outscore PA,” Withrow said. “Again, I think we can score on anybody, but we have to eliminate the mistakes. You can’t afford to give them too many opportunities because you’ll be down in a hurry. But the pressure is off. We know where we stand, so hopefully we’ll have some fun and get us a win.”