Friday, August 27, 2010

SPORTS>>Rivalry relocates to newly renovated War Memorial

Leader sports editor

They’re taking the neighborhood game out of the neighborhood.

The third Backyard Brawl between Cabot and Jacksonville kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium on Tuesday.

It will be the last event of the four-game Arkansas High School Kickoff Classic held at the stadium on Monday and Tuesday and will mark the third time Cabot and Jacksonville have opened the season against each other under the Backyard Brawl banner.

Coaches, athletic directors, players and cheerleaders from each team gathered to discuss the game with the media at a press conference at the First Arkansas Bank and Trust building in Jacksonville on Friday morning.

“We’re excited about a neutral site this time,” bank CEO and press conference host Larry Wilson said.

“War Memorial Stadium is a big stage, a big game on a big night,” new Jacksonville coach Rick Russell said.

Cabot coach Mike Malham noted that, while the Backyard Brawl and its traveling rophy are recent developments, the series between the two schools goes back years, with each team holding the upper hand at different times.

“It’s been a big rivalry for a long time,” Malham said. “It’s been a tough game on the field but when it’s over there’s no hard feelings. It’s a friendly rivalry.”

Since the Brawl was established, it has been all Cabot. The Panthers won last year’s game at Cabot 35-6 and took the previous meeting 41-15 at Jacksonville in a game delayed two days because of bad weather caused by Hurricane Gustav.

This year’s weather has taken a turn for the better recently, as temperatures over 110 degrees have dropped into the low 90s and high 80s. But Russell said Cabot still had the potential to unleash a storm on an unprepared team.

“They seem like they’re always in the right place,” Russell said of the Panthers’ 5-2 defense, and then he addressed Cabot’s hard-nosed Dead T running game. “They supposedly have just four or five plays but they run those four or five plays to perfection.”

“I think he’s at six plays now,” Wilson joked.

Jacksonville will have a mostly new playbook as it moves away from the Spread offense it used under Mark Whatley toward a more run-oriented scheme.

It fact, it is expected to be a night of debuts for both teams.

Russell, Jacksonville’s long-time assistant coach who was most recently defensive coordinator, is back as head coach after one year running the show at North Pulaski.

Malham will introduce 13 new starters, including quarterback Zach Craig, and noted Jacksonville has about that many starters coming back.

“So the tables are turned a little bit,” he said.

War Memorial Stadium will break in its newly remodeled pressbox and try out its new playing surface during the Kickoff Classic slate.

While Malham noted that Cabot and Jacksonville used to do battle in the same conference, the Backyard Brawl has been a non-conference affair. Cabot plays in the 7A/6A-Central as a 7A team this year and Jacksonville is one of the 6A members in the 7A/6A-East.

Cabot won the most important share of the championship in the former 7A-Central last year, finishing 9-1 and earning the top seed to the state playoffs. The Panthers reached the 7A semifinals before losing at home to Springdale Har-Ber on a late touchdown pass.

Jacksonville was 2-8 under Whatley while playing in the former 6A-East. Whatley left to join the staff at Springdale High School and the Red Devils brought in Russell.

The new coach made no predictions for Tuesday but said his players should be in good shape after practicing in the intense summer heat and called for 48 minutes of total execution.

“With good habits good things can happen,” Russell said.

Malham worried about Jacksonville’s new formations and wrinkles and said the only thing his team could do was try to play as mistake-free as possible.

“Both teams want to go 1-0;I guess it could end in a tie,” Malham said. “We’re going to try to be the team that’s 1-0 and Jacksonville is going try to be that team that’s 1-0.”