Tuesday, September 25, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Numbers favor Panthers

Leader sports editor

Two schools that have never met will face off this week in east Arkansas when the Cabot Panthers travel to Marion to take on the Patriots at 7 p.m. Friday.

Marion is the first of four class 6A schools on Cabot’s conference schedule, but head Panther Mike Malham isn’t taking the Patriots lightly.

“They don’t have as much depth as some of the 7A teams we play but they’re starters are a big, athletic kids,” Malham said. “We’ve never played them so we don’t really know what to expect. They look like they have some good athletes though. We’re going to have to execute on offense and tackle on defense. Our secondary is a concern right now because we’ve got so many injuries. But we’re going to have to tackle well, and some of their backs look like they’re hard to bring down.”

Marion always has a stable of good running backs, which is exactly what Patriot coach Mark Uhiren shoots for each year in his diamond T offense.

This year he has about five good backs. The three starters are all around 200 pounds. The backups provide a change of pace with less size but more speed.

“Two of our three starting backs are over 212 pounds and the other one is 190,” Uhiren said. “We had three backs go over 1,000 yards last year and almost four. We feel like we have the players to run the ball pretty well when we execute, but we haven’t executed yet this year like I’d like to see.”

Marion (2-2, 1-0) is coming off its best performance so far this season, a 53-18 rout of Mountain Home in its conference opener. That game followed a two-touchdown loss to Lake Hamilton.

Marion opened with an eight-point loss to Wynne and an easy victory over Forrest City.

Junior fullback Corey Garrett, who was one of the team’s 1,000-yard backs last season, racked up 240 yards on the ground last week against Mountain Home.

“We’re still hunting and looking for execution in some areas we need to get better at,” Uhiren said. “I think the offense got a little better last week and our run defense was pretty good. Our pass defense still needs some work, but that probably won’t be much of a problem at least for one more week. We know what we’re getting into with Cabot, even though we haven’t played them before.”

Uhiren’s description of what awaits his team is evidence that he does indeed know what to expect from the visiting Panthers.

“A mouthful of helmet is what we’re going to get,” Uhiren said. “They’re going to come off there low and hard with those big bodied kids and they have a bunch of them. I feel like our defense gets to see an offense like that in practice. Where we’re at a disadvantage is how many players they have. I don’t think he’s playing anybody both ways. He’s sitting right at about 100 kids and we’ve got about 55. And we have five or six playing offense and defense. I don’t like it. The numbers aren’t right but that’s the hand we’re dealt so that’s the one we’ll play with. At least we’re here and not there. That’s one good thing we can look at.”

Injuries in the secondary may force Cabot to play one or two both ways. Three preseason-projected starters in the Panthers’ secondary are now out. One went down just before the start of the season, one was lost against Conway and another went down on the first play against North Little Rock.

“I don’t think Marion throws it very much but they may try to this week,” Malham said.

The head Patriot says a strong passing game is something his team strives for, but hasn’t achieved.

“We work on the passing game every week, we’re just not very good at it,” Uhiren said.