Tuesday, September 29, 2009

SPORTS >> Tested Panthers face Rockets

Leader sports editor

Last year is last year and this year is this year, but count on the Cabot Panthers to have a long memory this week.

Cabot has a chance to avenge its one conference loss from 2008 when it travels to play Little Rock Catholic in a 7A-Central
game at War Memorial Stadium on Friday.

“They were our lone setback in the regular season,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said.

After cruising through the pre-conference schedule, outscoring Jacksonville, Sylvan Hills and Little Rock Hall by a combined 118-13, the Panthers were run ragged at times by Conway quarterback Xavier Acklin in last week’s 38-21 victory.

“Thirty-eight points ought to be enough to win a lot of ballgames but it wasn’t easy,” Malham said. “The kids got a little tired. It was the first time they’ve played a whole game since our scrimmage with Lake Hamilton.”

Starting with Catholic, Malham expects the Panthers’ schedule to get even more demanding.

“We’ve still got trouble with Bryant, Catholic and North Little Rock left,” Malham said. “Even Russellville. Russellville gave North Little Rock all they wanted. Week in, week out. It’s a pretty tough league.”

Cabot draws Catholic at a tricky time, as the Rockets are coming off a 21-13 loss to Bryant in their 7A-Central opener last week.

“I figured it would be a pretty good ballgame but playing at Bryant, they do a good job,” Malham said. “They’re well coached, they’re at home playing and they’ve got a good running back and a couple good receivers. Bryant’s pretty capable.”

But that’s Bryant. Right now the Panthers must contend with the Rockets.

“The kids like going to Little Rock. Hopefully we can play good,” Malham said.

Like Conway’s Acklin, Catholic has a mobile quarterback in three-year starter Taylor Bartlett, who passed for two touchdowns and ran for two in last year’s victory at Panther Stadium.

Cabot was up 31-7 last week after Hunter Sales caught Seth Bloomberg’s 28-yard touchdown pass, but Acklin and the Wampus Cats went into hurry-up mode, and the Panthers spent the rest of the night pursuing Acklin and trying to drag him down.

Malham hopes the experience pays against Bartlett.

“That quarterback made us look bad at times and Catholic’s quarterback did the same thing to us last year and he’s back again,” Malham said. “Trying to contain somebody who can run and throw, boy that’s tough on a defense.”

Malham said the Panthers will have to do a better job of forcing the passer to stay in the pocket this week, and he’ll take his chances with Catholic’s passing game, even though it features tight end Garret Uekman, who has committed to Arkansas.

“If they can beat us throwing then they can beat us throwing, but I just hate to see people run on us,” Malham said.

Cabot got a lift last week when linebacker and reserve running back Spencer Neumann was able to play after bouncing back from a neck injury that looked like it would keep him out of the game.

Instead, Neumann contributed a team-high 10 tackles.

“He just had a sore neck. He just had a little stinger on his neck back there,” Malham said. “He didn’t practice all week but he played.

“He didn’t do bad for not having practiced. I sort of feel better with him out there, that’s for sure.”

The Panthers again are hoping for additional help with the return of linebacker/fullback Michael James, who has battled injuries all season and missed last week’s game with a bad ankle.

James was expected to be a big component of both the offense and defense this season, but a shoulder injury and his ankle have relegated him to cameo appearances so far.

“We’ve been winning without him all year. We have never really had Michael,” Malham said. “He hadn’t got much playing time.

Between his shoulder and his ankle he just hasn’t had very good luck this year. Hopefully, when he can get back he’ll be able to go the rest of the year.”