Wednesday, September 13, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Bears, Titans to do battle

 Leader sports editor

There are two old sayings that come into play leading up to the Jacksonville Titans’ visit to Blackwood Field to face rival Sylvan Hills on Friday in Sherwood. The first is, throw records out the window. The second is, never compare scores.

This year, you can throw the first cliché out the window. Both teams enter the game with a record of 1-1, but recent history makes Sylvan Hills the favorite in most eyes.

The Bears have been one of the top teams in 5A the last three seasons. The peak of that run so far was last year’s 9-2 team that waxed Jacksonville 42-7 at Jan Crow Stadium. Last season might also have been the low point of a down cycle for Jacksonville.

Sylvan Hills also won the last four meetings. 2012 was the last time that JHS won the annual rivalry matchup.

All that makes it seem like the Bears should be favored, but Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow would like to draw those reigns back. And he has good reason.

The Bears and Titans share a common opponent. Catholic High gave both teams their loss, and while it may be an old saying that you can’t tell anything by comparing scores, it’s a hard factor to ignore just two games into the season.

The Rockets exploded on the Bears for a 44-7 blowout in Week 1. They started similarly against the Titans in Week 2, with Catholic scoring the game’s first 17 points. But Jacksonville stiffened up on defense and found a way to make a game of it before losing 34-17.

Withrow took notice.

“I think everybody thought Catholic would just run away with it, and it just never happened,” Withrow said. “Going into this one, I don’t know how everybody else looks at it, but they blew us out and Jacksonville played them tight. I think maybe you got to make Jacksonville the favorite.”

Turnovers were a big problem for the Bears in their loss. They coughed it up four times. They also cost themselves opportunities to score by thwarting good drives with penalties. They cured most of those woes with their own blowout of Hot Springs Lakeside. Getting that win and looking impressive doing it was a major boost for Sylvan Hills.

“Bouncing back like that is a big deal because you really don’t know where it’s going to go after a game like we started with,” Withrow said. “I thought all three phases were much better than the first week. And we got some turnovers instead giving them up. So we caught some breaks, but I still think it was obvious we executed a lot better.”

Withrow thinks Jacksonville is executing better as well. Of particular concern is the ability of senior quarterback Harderrious Martin. HD, as Martin is known, has shared time at quarterback since his sophomore season and has been the full-time starters since Week 4 last season, but he’s an unknown commodity to Withrow. Last year, Martin was not yet the starting quarterback when the two teams met. But he stands out on film.

“That quarterback can fly,” Withrow said. “Where did he come from? I can’t believe we hadn’t seen him. He reminds me a lot of (former SH starting QB Tra) Doss. He has that ability to make things happen when it looks like you’ve got them stopped. Doss was like that. You get them third long or on fourth down, and all of a sudden they’re out of it. I haven’t seen them throw it much, but I guarantee you Jacksonville is going to have a receiver or two that can go. They’re better. There’s no doubt.”

Sylvan Hills has a few of its own high-output players. None were more obvious than Deon Youngblood’s 284 yards and six touchdowns in last week’s win. The senior running back/slot back has had plenty of big yardage gains in his career against top-level competition, but Withrow thinks the yards will tougher to come by this week than it was last week.

“I’m also impressed with their front four on defense,” Withrow said of Jacksonville. “Their biggest one, 59, (Kalon McCoy) is a problem for anybody, and they all four get after you and play well. I’m not for a second thinking this is going to be easy. Last year is over. But I will say out blocking was much, much better last week. So what we have to answer is, what’s the reality? Are we the Week 1 team, or the Week 2 team?”