Wednesday, November 08, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Nettleton speed is concern for Bears

Leader sports editor

Sylvan Hills may have caught a bit of a break with how the three-way tie for first place in the 5A-East broke for seeding, but that doesn’t mean the Bears don’t have a very good team to face when they hit the road this Friday for the first round of the state playoffs.

Sylvan Hills, the four seed from the 5A-Central, travels to Nettleton to take on 5A-East Conference co-champion Raiders.

Nettleton, Batesville and Wynne each finished the season 6-1 in league play to share the championships. Each team went 1-1 against the other two, creating a triangle that had to go to tiebreaker points to clear up.

Nettleton was the high team in points with 72, while Wynne and Batesville each had 68. So Nettleton got the one seed, while Wynne and Batesville were determined by their head-to-head matchup, with Batesville winning 39-21 in week five.

None of the matchups among the top three were close. Nettleton hammered Batesville 48-21, and Wynne dominated Nettleton 27-0 last week, handing the previously unbeaten Raiders their first loss of the season.

“That conference is hard to figure out by looking at the scores,” said Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow, who went to Wynne to watch the Raiders and Yellowjackets play last Friday.

And he’s right. While the three games among the three co-champs were all blowouts, Wynne and Batesville struggled with Valley View, each one winning by three, while Nettleton hammered VVHS, but only managed to get by Blytheville 21-14.

“Obviously you look at it and think, of course you’d rather play the team that lost 27-0 than the team that won, but they’re not bad at all,” Withrow said. “It’s all about the matchups and Wynne matches up with them just right. You don’t get to 9-1 if you’re not very good.”

Like many other teams, including Sylvan Hills, Nettleton operates out of the Spread offense and runs out of it most of the time. The main ball carrier is 5-foot-10, 205-pound senior Detavion Turner. When he doesn’t hand it to Turner, quarterback Deondre Henry is a 6-0, 175-pound speedster who’s capable of big plays as well.

“They’ve got a couple that’s probably faster than anybody we got,” Withrow said. “And they’ve got some big linemen that’s opened some big holes for them. A big key for us is not giving up the big play. That’s what Wynne did to them, and they controlled the clock. If you can control the clock and keep those guys on the sideline, you’re in good shape.”

It’s a little odd to hear Withrow talking about ball control. The Bears have been a big-play offense the last couple of years. But that slowly changed as this season progressed. He likes that his squad was able to change and find an identity after a bit of a rough start to the season.

“We’ve kind-of morphed into a power running team because we’ve kind-of had to,” Withrow said. “Denny (offensive coordinator Denny Tipton) has done a great job of re-inventing us a little bit. We weren’t as comfortable throwing it early on. It was one of those things we had to change a little bit, but I’m comfortable throwing it now, out of what we’re doing now. We need to establish the run and go play action and that sort of thing, but I think we can do it. We’ve got guys that can catch the ball.”

Senior Payton Terry has made highlight reel catches in each of the last two games. Darius Waddell and Deviontae Muldrow have also been capable wideouts, while Cole Miller (6-5, 230) and Alex Curry (6-3, 230) make big targets at the tight end spot when needed.

But with the new run-first offense, seniors Deon Youngblood and Ty Compton have been the load bearers. Youngblood gets about two thirds of the carries, but Compton also plays nearly every snap on defense.

“You just have to take your hat off to the effort Ty Compton has given us this year,” Withrow said. That guy has done it all.”

Youngblood, however, has begun playing defense in the last couple of games as well. In fact, before the Bears played Parkview in week eight, the SH coaches decided to that several players were going to go both ways.

“The last couple weeks we decided we had to use some guys on both sides,” Withrow said. The only deal you get into is trying to manage it. It’s been pretty good so far. Some of them struggled at first but we felt like the athleticism was needed, and it makes us better.”