Tuesday, September 13, 2016

SPORT STORY >> Bears favored at Titans

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville and Sylvan Hills face off again this Friday at Jan Crow Stadium, and for the first time in five years, it’s a nonconference matchup. Jacksonville moved up to Class 6A this year, but the visiting Bears will be the favorites when they roll into Jan Crow for the 7 p.m. kickoff.

Sylvan Hills is 2-0, despite not playing very well offensively in last week’s 28-27 win over Hot Springs Lakeside. The Bears beat Catholic 48-34 in week one, while Jacksonville (1-1) lost 31-6 to Catholic last week at War Memorial Stadium.

“We got our work cut out for us,” said Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham. They’ve got weapons all over the field, and that quarterback can go. He’ll hurt you just as bad running or throwing it, so you can’t load up on one or the other.”

Sylvan Hills has had two big halves offensively and two bad ones. The Bears scored 41 of their 48 points against Catholic in the first half, and all 28 of their points against Lakeside in the second half.

They needed a blocked field goal on the last play of the game to preserve last week’s victory, but even that play came with a scare.

“We just didn’t play very well offensively,” said Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow. “We just made a bunch of silly mistakes, and one of them almost cost us the game. We block the field goal, and half the team runs off the field celebrating. They had a guy pick it up at the 7-yard line, and fortunately we had a few with the presence of mind to tackle him before he scored. We were very fortunate to get out of there with a win. We really were, because we didn’t play well at all.”

The good news for Withrow and Sylvan Hills, the head Bear knows his team can play a lot better.

”Without a doubt we can,” Withrow said. “I think it’s a case where we just kind of expected to be successful. After that first half against Catholic, we thought it was going to be easy. We have to learn that’s not how it is, and it’s never going to be that way. We aren’t going to be able to just roll out there and score 40 every half. We have to execute.”

Withrow detailed a few of those mistakes last Friday.

“We have a run and shoot play to open the game, and nobody (defender) is there. We could have walked it in from 50 yards, and we drop it. On our third play, Jordan (Washington) keeps it, and if the receiver just blocks the guy and doesn’t hold, that’s a touchdown. We came back later and dropped a deep ball. So there were points to be had that we left out there. It was really kind of embarrassing how bad we were in the first half. But we also know, if we don’t make those mistakes, we win that game without near as much trouble.”

Jacksonville has exhibited a big-play threat offensively, but struggled to finish drives against the Rockets. The Titans have scored five touchdowns this year, and four have covered at least half the field.

“It’s always great to have that threat, but you can’t rely on that to win many games,” Hickingbotham said. “We have to do a better job of finishing drives. We’re not trying to focus on touchdowns with each and every play. We’re focusing on first downs, and marching down the field. We can’t keep putting ourselves behind the chains or losing the football. It was just a case where, evidence of a young and inexperienced team reared its head on us last week. We moved the football and got close, but then made mistakes that cost us those opportunities. We just have to keep growing and maturing and working to get better. What I like is this group has shown the willingness and desire to do that.”

Withrow is wary of Jacksonville’s big-play threat, but was also pleased with his defense last week.

“That was a case last week where the defense kept us in the game in the first half,” Withrow said. “They were outstanding, and they had to be. If they hadn’t been as good as they were, we would’ve been in a big hole in that second half. Darius Waddell had a good game at safety. Anthony Duncan got his second interception of the year. Curtis Wiggins is the one that got through and blocked that field goal, so there were a lot of positives for us defensively.”