Tuesday, November 01, 2011

SPORTS >> Cabot wants to keep momentum

Leader sports editor

When Cabot plays Russellville on Thursday night at Cyclone Stadium in Russellville, nothing will be on the line for the Panthers except an opportunity to go into offseason with some momentum. Cabot (2-7, 1-5) is out of the 7A playoff picture, but wants to finish on a roll after getting its first conference win of the season last week against Van Buren.

Russellville, on the other hand, has something big to play for. If the Cyclones lose, they will be the No. 8 seed in the class 6A playoffs and will have to face top-ranked Lake Hamilton in the opening round. If they win, they likely move up to the six seed, which means facing the loser of this week’s El Dorado-Pine Bluff matchup.

To win this week, Russellville must find a way to slow down a Cabot offense that finally hit its stride last week in piling up over 500 yards of offense against the Pointers.

Russellville, who is facing the possibility of two-straight 1-9 seasons, hasn’t beaten Cabot since 2005, when the Panthers went 1-9.

The Cyclones have had several close calls this year, and haven’t been blown off the field by any 7A Central team. Hanging on to leads has been Russellville’s biggest problem this season.

In their league opener, Russellville gave up a late drive and touchdown with only seconds remaining to fall 34-31 to North Little Rock. LR Central also scored with less than two minutes remaining to sneak away with a 28-24 win over Russellville. Van Buren also got a field goal in the waning seconds to beat the Cyclones, 24-21. Russellville missed two field goals in that game.

Even against Bryant, when Russellville lost 38-21, it held a 21-17 lead in the fourth quarter before the Hornets scored three touchdowns in a two-minute span.

“Offensively they’ve been moving the ball and putting points on the board,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “They’ve come close in a lot of games. They haven’t been able to win them, but we’re 2-7 so we’re not taking anything for granted.”

Cabot’s defense has improved in recent weeks as well. Big plays that spelled doom in several early games have been kept to a minimum in recent ones. Russellville runs an offense known for making big plays, so that will be a key on Thursday.

“When you eliminate turnovers and keep from giving up big plays on defense, you give yourself a chance to win the game,” Malham said. “That’s what we’ve done the last few weeks. Right now we have a chance to win one more and that’s it, so hopefully we’ll keep doing those things.”

Cabot’s senior defensive players have made a big impact in recent games. Malham bragged on the play of linemen T.C. Carter, Hayden Studdard, Zach Boyd and Brandon Schiefelbein, as well as linebacker Chase Boyles and defensive back Bryson Morris, who had two interceptions last week.

“Those guys have been doing a great job,” Malham said. “The guys on the line have been getting pressure, and of course Chase Boyles has been our leading tackler last year and this year. Bryson has been good in the secondary and our younger guys are starting to get better.”

Cabot’s offensive line has featured several sophomores and a few juniors, and besides Morris, most of the secondary players are underclassmen.

“I really kind of wish the season was just getting started,” Malham said. “The last three weeks have been a lot different than the first half of the season. Hopefully we’ll keep getting better, and next year will be a lot better than this one.