Tuesday, October 30, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers playing for 7A playoffs

Leader sports editor

After last week’s domination of highly-ranked Jonesboro, it would be easy to assume the Panthers would beat Searcy at home this Thursday in the regular-season finale, but there’s a lot more to this game than the last week of play.

This Lions (5-4, 4-2) are once again the winning program it was years ago. Last year’s rebound season with Division I quarterback Daniel Stegal was no fluke. Without Stegal, who is now a backup quarterback at Arkansas State University, the Lions are even better. They own wins against two teams that have beaten Cabot, including wins over 7A teams West Memphis and Little Rock Central.

“They just beat two teams that beat us,” Malham said. “They beat Central who we didn’t beat, and they just beat West Memphis who we didn’t beat. Anybody can be beaten by anybody in this conference, except maybe North Little Rock. I think it’s a toss up. It’s who doesn’t make mistakes, who doesn’t help the other team out, that’s going to win this game. We’ve helped out some of our opponents and Jonesboro helped us out a little bit last week. So whoever keeps the mistakes down should win the game.”

Searcy runs a very similar offense to that of Jonesboro. The Panthers shut down the Golden Hurricane’s two major threats, running back Martin Stafford and quarterback D.J. Anderson. This week they’ll face another run-pass threat in Searcy quarterback Antwan Arnold. The Lions offensive engineer may not be quite as fast as Anderson, but he’s still fast, and passes much better than Anderson.

“There’s no doubt their best athlete is that quarterback,” Malham said. “He can make a lot big plays in different ways. They can throw it a lot better than Jonesboro and they’ve got some good receivers. Hopefully we can keep the quarterback bottled up like we did Jonesboro’s but we’ve got to cover well too because he can get rid of the ball better than the last one.”

Cabot’s defense was solid at every position last week. The defensive line found its way into Jonesboro’s backfield most of the game. The secondary covered well and was also effective on blitzes. The defensive backfield is a little thin, but if it stays healthy, should be a positive big factor in the remainder of the season.

“The defense played great, there’s no doubt about that,” Malham said. “We covered people tight and didn’t get any flags thrown on us. We’ve only been playing four back there. (Chris) Luna dressed out last week but he still can’t run full speed. I don’t know if he’s going to play or not. We have a couple of juniors, Colby Ferguson and Jordan Burke, that have covered really well and made some good plays. Our little sophomore, Jake Ferguson, has been playing extremely well. He’s everywhere making plays.”

The playoff picture is muddled with the 7A power ratings playing a bigger factor in playoff seedings than win-loss records.

Cabot still has a slight chance of getting a No. 4 seed, which would be big because it would mean a home playoff game. But the most likely scenario, if Cabot wins, is a five seed. West Memphis would have to lose to Mountain Home for Cabot to get a four seed. There’s also still a slight possibility of Cabot not making the playoffs.

If Cabot wins, it will likely get the five seed. In order to fall to sixth, Central would have to beat North Little Rock or Fort Smith Northside would have to beat Fort Smith Southside, neither of which is likely. If Cabot loses to Searcy and Northside wins, the Panthers are out of the playoffs even with a Central loss because the Tigers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Cabot.

“We just need to win and see what happens,” Malham said. “We know we’re in the playoffs if we win. We’d like to have that home game but it’s probably not very likely. But I think if we can keep playing the way we did last week we’ll have a chance to beat some people, home or on the road.”

The top two seeds in the conference are already locked up. No matter what happens this week, North Little Rock is the one seed and Southside is the two seed. Conway will be the three seed with a win over Catholic, who is just 2-7 this season.