Friday, August 26, 2011


Leader sports editor

The towns are abuzz, the press conference is over and practice sessions are honed in from general improvement to opponent-specific strategy. The 2011 football season is about to begin, and it starts with central Arkansas’ biggest rivalry north of the river. Tuesday night, Cabot and Jacksonville face off at Panther Stadium in what has been dubbed the Backyard Brawl, as the two teams battle for the traveling trophy that goes home with the winner of this 35-plus-year rivalry game.

Cabot has owned the series in recent years, winning the last four in a row, as well as 13 of the last 15 matchups. Jacksonville won two consecutive in 2005 and 2006, and won both with relative ease.

Cabot won 28-7 last season, but the game was more competitive than the score indicates.

That fact is not lost either coach this year, and many suspect this may be one of the fiercest, most competitive and best-contested Cabot-Jacksonville matchups in many years.

“They played us really good last year and they have a lot back,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “They have about all their skill people back and they have some athletes. I think they’re better this year and I know they’re expecting to be better. We’re going to have to be ready to play every play because they’re coming in here to do one thing, and that’s win this ball game.”

Cabot will still have a slight size advantage and a huge depth advantage. Jacksonville will have the advantage in speed and experience. The Red Devils have very few key players with no experience, while Cabot will be playing seven sophomores in significant roles.

Cabot will start three newcomers in the secondary and four on the offensive line.

“The lineman have gotten better,” Malham said of his offensive sophomores. They’re the best we’ve got, that’s what they’re starting. I think they’re going to be real, real good, but not yet. They’ve got decent size, can move pretty good and they’re pretty aggressive. They just have to learn. Hopefully they’ll learn fast.”

Jacksonville coach Rick Russell doesn’t think Cabot’s youngsters will be that much of a disadvantage for the host team.

“They’re just like always,” Russell said. “Those kids start learning that system in seventh grade and very little changes about it. It’s a methodical offense. They know what they’re running and they run it really, really well. Their players are always extremely sound in their technique, and we’re going to have to match that.”

Jacksonville coaches were present at Lake Hamilton when the Wolves threw four long touchdown passes against Cabot’s young secondary in last week’s scrimmage game.

Jacksonville has its own strong-armed quarterback and a stable of speedy receivers. It hopes it can have the same kind of success on Tuesday.

“We feel like we have some receivers that can get in some space,” Russell said. “We’re just going to have to be able to hit them.”

Malham knows stopping the pass will be a big key to beating Jacksonville.

“We got back here, and we got to work on the mistakes,” Malham said. “We just have three young ones back there. Hopefully we did a lot of growing. Their receivers are big and fast. Their quarterback is about 6-foot-5, 230 pounds and can throw the heck out of it. It’s going to be tough.”

Cabot doesn’t expect Jack-sonville’s new offense to present any challenges it hasn’t already faced. He’s mainly worried about the athletes who will be running that new offense.

“It’s not nothing we haven’t seen,” Malham said. “They’re going to do some one-back, some two-back, go out of the pistol like Har-Ber does. They’re going to run a little wing-T out of the shotgun. It’s going to be a good test. We’re just going to see if we can adjust in the act.”

Even with all the different factors playing into this year’s game. Both coaches have simple ideas on where the key to victory lies.

“We’re going to have to play smart, take care of the football and get it in the hands of our playmakers in space,” Russell said.
“Our best chance is to hang onto the ball,” Malham said, “to not let them have a lot of snaps. We don’t have the speed they have. We need to limit their opportunities as much as we can.”