Tuesday, October 10, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Pressure the key to upset of Bruins

By RAY BENTON Leader sports editor

Sylvan Hills got its offense going full speed in last week’s win at Mills, but it will need its defense and special teams to step up like it hasn’t had to yet this season when the undefeated Pulaski Academy Bruins visit Blackwood Field on Friday.

The defending state champions don’t have the same quality defense it had a year ago. Opponents are averaging four touchdowns per game against the Bruins, but the offense is scoring at a level considered high even by PA’s standards. This year’s Bruins are scoring 63.5 points per game, with the high coming in last week’s wild 86-56 win over Little Rock Christian Academy.

LRCA managed to score with PA for three quarters, trailing 53-42 at the start of the fourth, but PA’s relentless onside kicking finally started to pay off and the Bruins won the game simply by getting more possessions.

“That’s the key when you play them,” said Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow. “If you keep giving away possessions, they’re going to score and you don’t have a chance.”

The Bears outplayed the Bruins last year in Little Rock in every statistical category, but still lost a hard-fought, 35-23 game thanks to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the fourth quarter that wiped away a first down and led to a blocked punt that PA scored on to take the lead.

Sylvan Hills held PA to 284 yards of offense in that game, less than half its season average.

The Bears did that with pressure on the quarterback, and that will be a focus this year as well.

“If you look at last week, (LRCA) just rushed three and that kid (quarterback Layne Hatcher) just sat back and picked them apart. You’ve got to get some pressure on him. I don’t care how athletic you are in the defensive backfield, if you let him stand there, they’re going to kill you.”

This year’s Bears have different kinds of players from last year, but the defensive strategy will be basically the same, with some different wrinkles.

“We’re just a different kind of team and we have to do it a little different way,” Withrow said. “The things we could do with those guys last year, we can’t necessarily do with these guys. But there are some things we’re going to do we wouldn’t have tried last year. We’re still going in with the goal of getting to the quarterback. We just have to do it a different way.

“We think we have a chance. If we can make some plays and score and not get out-possessioned, I think we have a chance.”