Wednesday, November 02, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Bears wary of underdog Beebe team

Leader sports editor

The 8-1 Sylvan Hills Bears will be the big favorites when they travel tomorrow to take on the Beebe Badgers at A.S. Bro Erwin Stadium, but that hasn’t meant much recently. 

The Bears have been the favorites going into their games with Beebe the last two seasons, and things haven’t worked out for them either time. 

Sylvan Hills is already a lock to finish second in the 7A-Central, while Beebe is practically (though not mathematically) eliminated from playoff contention. 

That means neither team is playing for anything tangible, and that’s a concern for both coaches. The Badgers  technically still have playoff hopes, but would not only need its own upset win, but also a veritable miracle win by winless J.A. Fair over Little Rock Christian Academy. 

Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow knows his team can’t gain or lose anything no matter the outcome Thursday, but he still wasn’t entirely pleased with his team’s focus at practice on Monday. 

“I think it’s not bad, but I don’t know if I’d go much further than that,” said Withrow. “I thought for the most part we were into it, but not like we should be, or have been other Mondays.”

The Bears (9-1, 5-1) and Badgers (4-5, 3-3) have played two exciting games that went down to the wire the last two seasons. Beebe won both, winning 41-37 at Sylvan Hills in 2014, and 28-21 at Beebe last year. The Badgers had its all-time leading rusher, Trip Smith, for those games, but the 2016 graduate is now gone, as well as the rest of the starting offensive backfield of the last two seasons.

“I think they’re just young, but I think they’re talented,” Withrow said of the Badgers. “They play a lot of sophomores and they’ve made some sophomore mistakes at times that have hurt them. You can tell, I think next year they’re going to be that team that nobody expects anything out of, that’s going to turn out pretty good. What bugs you about that is, what if this is the game they really put it together and get everything out of them. And we’ve not had a lot of success with them, so that’s a concern.”

Beebe coach John Shannon knows his team has won as underdogs the last two years, but also knows the hill to climb this year is a little steeper. Sylvan Hills’ offense has been a force the last two seasons, but Shannon thinks the biggest difference in this year’s SH squad is the defense. 

“One thing about going in as underdogs the last couple of years is both times we felt really good about our ability to go in there and move the football,” Shannon said. “Figuring out how to stop them was always a major concern, and now we have to figure how to deal with a really good defense as well. They’ve improved tremendously, I think, especially at linebacker.

“But I think they’re going to have to make some mistakes and we’re going to have to play perfect football. If we can put together long drives, eat the clock, keep that offense off the field and maybe frustrate them that way, we can give ourselves a chance.”

The Bears have been far from a one-trick pony this year, but Shannon still believes slowing down quarterback Jordan Washington is the key to any chance of slowing down the Bears’ offense. 

“The quarterback is their best player,” Shannon said. “We have to keep him from reading that zone and taking off up the middle on us. But they put a lot of pressure on you because you have to cover the whole field to deal with all those other talented backs and receivers they’ve got. You hope to put them in third and long and get them a little uncomfortable, but they’re almost as dangerous even then because you drop back to cover and (Washington) takes off running. So I don’t know if there’s any particular down we have to win. It’s just going to take a perfect game on our part.”

Shannon isn’t being subjective in his assessment of Sylvan Hills’ defense. The Bears are better. After nine games last season, Sylvan Hills was 7-2 and had given up 288 points. This year through nine games, it has only given up 171.