Tuesday, November 08, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Wildcats’ big plays challenge Bears’ D

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills Bears have been no stranger to playoff games in recent years, but it’s been almost a decade since they played one at home. The Bears’ last played a playoff game at Blackwood Field in 2007. That changes this Friday when the 5A-Central two seed hosts South three seed Watson Chapel at 7 p.m. in Sherwood.

The Bears (9-1) enter the playoffs after their best regular season since 2002 when it played in the Class 4A state championship game.

Sylvan Hills’ only loss this season was at No. 1 Pulaski Academy, where it led every statistical category except the ever-so-crucial turnovers, which led to the 35-23 defeat.

The Watson Chapel Wildcats, (6-4, 5-2) out of Pine Bluff, have been a Jekyll and Hyde team this year, especially in recent weeks.

They are responsible for top-seeded White Hall’s only loss this season, and put itself in position for a share of the league title with the 41-36 win in Week 7 of the season. But they lost 21-14 to Magnolia in Week 8, when the Panthers were just 2-5. White Hall had beaten Magnolia 38-0. It was the first of three-straight wins for the Panthers that put them into the playoffs as the four seed from the 5A South.

“Chapel’s a team that it’s a little hard to know what to expect,” said Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow. “They’ve beat some really good teams, and they’ve lost a couple games that kind of make you scratch your head. What we have to keep in mind is that when they’re at their best, they’re pretty good. So we need to be at our best.”

The Bears and Wildcats share one common opponent in 5A-South Conference co-champion Hot Springs Lakeside. The Rams beat the Wildcats 35-20 in Week 9. Six weeks earlier in the third week of the season, the Bears blocked an 18-yard field-goal attempt as time expired to hang on for a 28-27 victory at HSLHS.

“It’s a tough first-round matchup,” Withrow said. “We played them twice this summer in 7-on-7, and their skill guys are good. They’re athletic, good size and very fast. Looking at them on film, their linemen aren’t bad. Their skill guys are big but their linemen aren’t just huge. So we’ve got to win the point of attack defensively. I think we can do that if we’re ready to play. We’ve shown that ability at times.”

The Bears’ aggressive defensive strategy has included lots of blitzes this year. The Bears held Pulaski Academy to a season low 286 yards of offense. They had similar success against McClellan’s vaunted running attack.

Chapel lost its starting quarterback midseason for disciplinary reasons, but Withrow believes it got better when backup Jaquan Dorsey took over behind center.

“The quarterback is good,” Withrow said. “He moves in and out of the pocket well. He’s athletic and has a great arm. He throws the ball a long ways.”

Withrow also noticed on film that the Wildcats are adept at screen passes, which can burn blitzing defenses if they get careless.

“You can still have a blitz on, but you have to account for that guy,” Withrow said of the intended receiver. We’ll have to be on the lookout for that and know where that guy is.

“The main thing we have to watch out for is their big play capability. They’re the kind of team that’ll make a bad play and get behind the chains, and then go the distance on the next one and none of that other stuff mattered. We have to not let that happen. I think if we can force them to march down the field, we’ll put ourselves in a much better position to win.”