Wednesday, September 25, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot tests getting bigger

Leader sports editor

When the buzzer sounded to end Cabot’s 23-9 win over Conway last Friday, the team had shaken hands and huddled on a knee waiting for its coach to finish his radio interview. As he approached his squad that had just put together a signature performance and passed its first major test, Mike Malham told his excited players that, “The best is yet to come.”

That will need to be true for the Panthers to pull off another win this Friday when they travel to North Little Rock to take on the nationally ranked Charging Wildcats at 7 p.m.

“Our competition has gotten a little tougher each week,” said Malham. “We went from Jacksonville to Catholic to Conway, and now it’s a little tougher again. Hopefully we can keep rising to the challenge. We passed a pretty good test Friday night. Conway has a big offensive line and good speed, and people said they looked pretty good when they scrimmaged North Little Rock. I don’t know. North Little Rock looks pretty good on film.”

The Wildcats, 2-1, have had one uncompetitive rout of Lake Hamilton, a one-point loss to nationally ranked South Panola, Miss., and a two-touchdown win last week at Pine Bluff.

Last week’s game might be the most costly. Running back Juan Day, who made a verbal commitment in the spring to play for the Arkansas Razorbacks, went down with a knee injury. Results from tests on Monday were expected by today, but early indications are that he won’t be available for Friday’s game.

That leaves the Wildcats with only two big-time Division I prospects to get the ball to. Junior K.J. Hill, who played for Bryant last year and was offered by the Razorbacks two weeks ago, had twolong runs in last week’s win over Pine Bluff. He also made several big plays to keep Bryant close in last year’s first-round playoff game against the Panthers. It was a game Cabot, 3-0, won before losing 28-0 to North Little Rock in the second round last year. The Wildcats also beat Cabot 35-14 in last year’s conference opener at Panther Stadium.

North Little Rock also has Kavin Alexander, who dazzled onlookers at the Nike Football Sparq Combine by posting the top overall score and second-best score all time. At that event, held in Dallas in April, Alexander, who is Oakland Raiders’ running back Darren McFadden’s first cousin, ran a 4.36 second 40-yard dash, a 3.9 second shuttle run, posted a 40.5 inch vertical leap and tossed the power ball 42.5 feet. All four marks were in the 99th percentile in combine history.

“They lost a lot from last year but they retooled pretty well,” Malham said. “They’re not as big as they were last year, but they’re just as fast, if not faster, than last year. There’s no shortage of playmakers over there. Anybody that touches the ball for them is capable of taking it to the house. We’re going to have to be on our toes and be disciplined on defense. We’re going to have to wrap up and tackle and not let those guys get loose. If they get loose, we’re in trouble. But the way the defense is playing, I think if we can keep playing like we have been, hopefully we can hang in there and have a chance to win that thing in the fourth quarter.”

The Panthers’ starting defense hasn’t given up more than one touchdown in any of its three games. Meanwhile, last week’s 23 points is the lowest output for the offense, and that came despite turnovers on four consecutive possessions.

Cabot’s defense also hasn’t suffered the injuries the offense has suffered. The Panthers started the Conway game without two starters, and finished it without three. Depth was a major concern for Malham when the season started, especially on the offensive line. But two games with two replacement linemen resulting in two wins, leaves the head Panther feeling a little better about his line depth.

“(Wyatt) Talik stepped up when (Devin) Crawford went down in the first game,” Malham said. “(Jordan) Stull stepped in and played well for us in the second half against Conway when we lost (Jonathan) Crowder. Hopefully we can keep that up. I was worried about that to start the season, but those guys have done real well.”

Crowder will probably be back this week while Crawford is out at least until week five with a broken bone in his foot.

Cabot was also without starting fullback Zach Launius last week, who suffered a concussion in practice. Junior Jack Whisker took his place and ran for 98 yards on Friday.

“He did a good job,” Malham said of Whisker. “He’s not the home run hitter Launius is. He doesn’t have that kind of speed. But he runs hard and gets good yardage. Sometimes nickel and diming them to death works out better because it helps your defense. They’re sitting over there on the sidelines getting some rest. And that explosive offense is sitting over there on the other sideline too, without the ball.”