Tuesday, October 20, 2009

SPORTS >> Cabot looking for spot-free finish

Leader sports editor

Before the Cabot Panthers put their perfect record on the line in their 7A-Central game at troublesome Bryant this week, they might want to stock up on bleach and laundry detergent.

Cabot will leave its immaculate, artificial surface at Panther Stadium for the natural grass field at Bryant. After last week’s rain, and with more in the forecast for Friday, the Panthers may have some dirty work ahead.

“That field’s already pretty saturated,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “I don’t know if we’re mudders or not. In the past we have been. We really don’t play on grass a lot. This will be the second time this year we’ve played on grass. We’ve just got to get our minds set.”

Cabot (7-0, 4-0) overcame multiple turnovers at home last week and still posted a dominant, 28-6 victory over the Little Rock Central Tigers, who are still seeking their first victory of the year and riding an 18-game losing streak.

“We got the win. We’re 4-0 in the conference, which is where we want to be,” Malham said. “We’ve got a big one coming up Friday. They just get bigger.”

The Panthers fumbled four times against the Tigers in perfect conditions last week. If Cabot doesn’t hang on to the ball against Bryant, messy field or not, the miscues could get costly, Malham said.

“That’s not good; that’s not focusing in,” Malham said. “That’s getting sloppy. In a close game that will kill you.”

Bryant has been hard enough to score against even when Cabot has been sure-handed, Malham said.

“They’ve given us trouble over the last couple years,” he said. “They’ve held us to 14 points the last two times we’ve played them. We’re averaging more than that and they’ve done a good job defending us.”

Bryant is allowing its opponents just over 12 points a game and averaging 33.8. Cabot is scoring an average 31.8 points a game while allowing just 8.8, and is still running its dead T with success, though some teams have forced the Panthers to the air more than usual.

But with experienced senior Seth Bloomberg at quarterback, Malham said the Panthers don’t get ruffled if they have to switch tactics.

“Bloomberg does a pretty good job of running and throwing,” Malham said. “We feel like in our running game, our option game and our passing game we may have an answer.”

A greater concern for the Panthers is stopping the motivated Hornets, featuring all-state running back Chris Rycraw, when they have the ball.

“He’s just been tearing it up every week,” Malham said. “So we’ve got our work cut out for us stopping him, and then they’ve got a good throwing attack too. They’ve been scoring some points, that’s for sure.”

Cabot’s already solid running back situation has improved even more the past two weeks with the return of senior fullback Michael James.

James, who gained over 1,300 yards last year, has missed much of the season with shoulder and ankle injuries. He began to ease back into action a game ago at North Little Rock.

James, splitting time now with junior workhorse Spencer Smith, appeared to get up to speed last week when he had 19 carries for 144 yards.

“He got almost 20 carries and looked good,” Malham said. “Spencer had 14 or 15 and I’m thinking he had somewhere around 80 yards. With both of them, that gives us depth and somebody should be rested.”

Malham said it is hard to tell a valuable senior like James or a guy like Smith, who had 42 carries against Little Rock Catholic, to take a seat. But the depth and bench time is good for the offense overall, Malham said.

“Obviously a competitor wants to be on the field the whole time, but it’s a team game,” Malham said. “I think we’ve got a great situation.”