Tuesday, October 23, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers in crucial situation on Friday

Leader sports editor

Cabot’s home game against Jonesboro (6-1, 4-1) this Friday is as big as it gets. The Panthers (4-3, 2-3) have two games left to try and secure one of the 12 spots in the class 7A state playoffs. After dropping its last two, the Panthers are 2-3 in league play. There are four teams in the East/South playoff race with better records than Cabot. There are three teams, including Cabot, at 2-3 vying for the two remaining playoff spots. One of those teams is Little Rock Central, which beat the Panthers head-to-head.

The Panther’s opponent rolls into Lonoke County with its only loss a 27-20 defeat at the hands of powerhouse North Little Rock. No other team in the state has played within 20 points of the Wildcats, and that team was Cabot, which lost 33-14.

Despite the impressive record, Hurricane coach Randy Coleman believes his squad has an uphill battle ahead of it this week.

“I hope people don’t take this the wrong way, or as a bunch of coach speak, but I think we’re the underdogs,” Coleman said. “We have a better record, but I think they lost a couple they should have won. We’re on the road against a team with one of the best coaches in the state. They have the advantage in experience and numbers and we feel like we’ve got to go in there and play our best game of the year in order to get a win.”

Running back Martin Stafford leads Jonesboro’s offensive attack. He has 1,284 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. He has had some space to run in thanks to a good passing attack.

Quarterback D.J. Anderson has thrown for more than 700 yards and rushed for about the same amount. His favorite target when he drops back is Devonte Pope, who Coleman says is right at 500 yards receiving this season with six touchdowns.

“Everybody always talks about the running back and the quarterback, and they are big for us,” Coleman says. “But Devonte is a really dynamic player too. He’s returned two punts for touchdowns and had another called back due to an inadvertent whistle, which was very frustrating. But those three are our go-to guys, no doubt about it.”

One of the only things that has slowed down the Hurricane’s offense this season has been turnovers. North Little Rock bottled up Stafford pretty well, but Anderson carried 19 times for 127 yards in that game.

“We feel like we have different ways to move the ball if something else isn’t working,” Coleman said. “We’re pleased to say this is our most complete team since I’ve been here. We’re happy about the way we’re playing. The kids play with great effort and play really hard. We’ve limited mistakes for the most part, and that’s definitely crucial against a team like Cabot.”

Coleman believes turnovers against a quality, ball-control offense is dangerous.

“The way Cabot controls the clock, if you start wasting drives and giving away possessions, you’re going to be trying to come from behind, and that’s where Cabot wants you to be,” Coleman said.

Jonesboro has seen two offenses similar to Cabot’s in West Memphis and Mountain Home, but Coleman believes the Panthers have the most difficult style to prepare for.

“It’s hard to get your kids to truly replicate the way Cabot plays,” Coleman said. “As far as lining up in sets and having people run the holes they run, it’s not an issue. But the way coach Malham has those guys do it, come off the ball hard and staying so low. We’re not used to getting down in a three-point stance. We do a lot of pass protect and aren’t usually plowing forward on the snap. It’s hard to get your defensive line real experience against that until they see it.”

The Panthers and Hurricanes will kickoff at 7 p.m. Friday at Panther Stadium.