Tuesday, November 02, 2010

SPORTS>>Russellville first for Cabot

By Todd traub
Leader sports editor

No matter what happens with the 7A playoff bracket, there is one thing they won’t be able to take away from Cabot.

If the Panthers win Thursday’s game with Russellville, they will be 7A/6A-Central Conference champions.

So might Conway and Bryant, but Cabot would be in there too.

“I’m not worried about points. If we can play good and get a win Thursday night, we can say we’re conference champs,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said.

The Panthers are in a three-way tie for first in the conference, having lost to Conway and beaten Bryant, the other two first-place teams.

In the postseason, all 16, 7A teams are grouped in Central and West regions. West Memphis, playing mostly 6A teams in the 7A/6A-East, has the inside track for the Central’s top seed and first-round bye, and the tie-breakers don’t favor Cabot taking the No. 2 spot if the Panthers, Bryant and Conway all win their final games.

“We won’t have a bye,” Malham said of the postseason scenarios. “We’ll end up hosting a five or a six depending on whether we’re a three or a four, and then, if we win that game at home, then the next week we’ll be going to a [Springdale] Har-Ber, a Bentonville or a [Fort Smith] Southside depending on who ends up with those seeds.”

Malham said he expected to play host to Heritage, Rogers or Fayetteville if the Panthers earn a first-round home game.

But talk of first- and second-round play is premature, Malham said.

“We’ve got to beat Russellville first and that ain’t no gimme,” Malham said. “We’ve got to play. You can’t take nothing for granted. I can remember a few years ago when a 0-7-1 Pine Bluff team came in here and jumped on us and beat us and we didn’t play worth a dime.”

The Panthers are coming off a hard-fought, 35-28 victory at Van Buren. While the victory kept Cabot in the hunt for itsshare of the conference championship, there were a few elements that made Malham uneasy.

Cabot (7-2, 5-1) has mostly played mistake-free football, cutting down turnovers and limiting penalties, during its five-game winning streak. The Panthers only lost the ball once Friday but there were too many penalties to make Malham happy, and there was a fumble in the backfield the Panthers recovered, but it forced Cabot to punt.

“We don’t know how to hand off, I guess,” Malham said.

Malham is hoping, in a short week, Cabot can recapture its form and beat Russellville to take some momentum into the postseason.

“Hopefully we stay on target,” Malham said. “We’ve been playing pretty good the last several weeks.  When we play well we’re not too bad; when we help the other team we’re not too good.”

Cabot is beginning to show the wear and tear of a long season.

On Friday, running back Andre Ausejo, who had been playing in place of injured Spencer Smith, had to leave the game because of a stinger in his shoulder. Ian Thompson came on to rush for 104 yards and a touchdown, and while Ausejo felt he could go back in during the second half, Malham decided to stick with Thompson and take no chances.

“It always helps to have some depth,” Malham said. “In this league in this part of the year injuries are always going to be there.”

Jeremy Berry stepped forward Friday, rushing for 229 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.

“He had his best game,” Malham said.

Many teams traditionally play their final games on Thursday, but the short week doesn’t bother Malham.

He said that by now the offense should have its six or seven bread-and-butter plays well rehearsed and the focus will be on preparing to defend against Russellville’s Spread offense.

“At this point of the year we try not to stay out as long anyway,” Malham said. “Body rest is a big part of it. If they don’t know what they’re doing at this time of year you’ve got a big problem anyway.”