Tuesday, September 25, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Wildcats looking to get better

Leader sports editor

North Little Rock hasn’t enjoyed fast starts to any of its games so far, but it hasn’t taken long for the Charging Wildcats to get up to speed and figure out how to dominate its last two opponents. Against Pine Bluff and Cabot, North Little Rock has given up long drives for touchdowns, but took control defensively in both games and went on to double-digit victories. They’re hoping to come out of the gate playing their best when they take on the West Memphis Blue Devils this Friday at home.

“We would definitely like to start off a little better defensively,” North Little Rock coach Brad Bolding said. “Seems like once we get a defensive series behind us, we lock and load, buckle down and play really well. Obviously there were some adjustments made. Cabot came out a little different than usual. They had their Dead T offset a little bit and we had to adjust to that. Once we made those adjustments I was real proud of how the defense played.”

This week the Wildcats are at home against a West Memphis team that’s been ranked at or near the top of the state’s largest classification for almost a decade. The Blue Devils played in three consecutive and four total state championship games in the last decade, but was never able to win the state championship.This year’s Blue Devils are like most others, big and fast with lots of depth, but still may be at a disadvantage in all areas when they visit Pulaski County on Friday.

“We’re lucky we got them at home, which helps,” Bolding said. “We play really well here and we’re going to need to. West Memphis is one of the more talented teams in the state. They’re well coached. Coach Dauksch and his guys have been consistent every year. They have a winning program and you’d better be ready to play when they come in.”

The Blue Devils are coming into the game on the heels of their first loss of the season. West Memphis fell 30-21 to Jonesboro.

It’s the first time in 10 years that West Memphis has lost to the Hurricanes, but it’s widely believed this is the best team Jonesboro has had in at least that long.

One player that stood out despite the loss was West Memphis’ Jarvis Cooper, a junior linebacker that has become a force defensively. At 6-foot-3, 235-pounds, Cooper moves around in the defensive scheme and Bolding says his offense will need to know where he is at all times.

“They put him down on the line some, linebacker some, he’s just a playmaker and they’re putting him in the best positions they can for him to make plays,” Bolding said of Cooper. Even when he’s at linebacker their defensive line is not bad. They’re lines like to play physical just like Cabot. I expect this game will be just as physical as that last one, and I thought Cabot was a very physical game.”

The quarterback controversy is a controversy no more at NLRHS. Junior Payton Holmes and sophomore Heath Land will each continue to get about the same number of snaps per game. Holmes had been getting a slight majority, but Land ended up with more reps against Cabot.

“It’s nothing we set out to do it just worked out that way,” Bolding said. “There are certain formations and sets we get in where we want Payton and Payton only, but don’t see much change from how we’ve been doing it. Heath is a better passer and these guys are working well together. They’ve fallen into their roles and execute well together. I don’t foresee much change. We’re just going to be a two-quarterback team.”

Barring injuries in practice, the Wildcats will be completely healthy in week five. North Little Rock has enjoyed a relatively injury-free season. One player missed the Pine Bluff game, but everyone was available against Cabot and made it through that game intact.

“We’re 100 percent healthy right now so we’ve been fortunate,” Bolding said. “We’ve got pretty good depth and that helps. You can’t beat good depth.”