Tuesday, October 22, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot on guard for upset

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers host a West Memphis team that’s had a disappointing season overall, but is showing signs of improvement. After starting the season 0-3, the Blue Devils are 2-2 in conference play and coming off a 42-13 rout of its neighboring rival Marion.

They will be an underdog when they visit Panther Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday, but the Blue Devils know a little bit about pulling off an upset over Cabot.

Just last season, West Memphis had a slightly better record than Cabot when they met in week eight, but games against common opponents indicated the Panthers may have the advantage. Instead, the Blue Devils took advantage of several Cabot mistakes, and running back Jarvis Cooper broke a long run in the final moments of the game to give West Memphis a 23-20 win.

Cooper is back this season for his senior year, and the 6-foot-2, 250-pounder carries the team offensively and defensively. Cabot coach Mike Malham knows stopping him probably means stopping West Memphis.

“He’s a Division I player,” Malham said of Cooper. “He broke two long ones against Central and kept them in that game. We didn’t break anything against Central. We don’t have anyone like that, with that combination of size and speed.”

Cooper ran for nearly 200 yards in the 41-24 loss at Central on Oct. 11. He also twice sacked Central’s quarterback on handoffs, forcing one fumble that was covered 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Cooper has offers from Memphis, Arkansas State and Central Arkansas, and has made official visits to Arkansas and Auburn. The University of Tennessee has also invited Cooper for an official visit later this year.

Auburn is looking at Cooper as a fullback, but his versatility makes it unclear where he will fit into a college’s system.

He played linebacker on defense last year and plays defensive tackle this season. He’s being scouted as a linebacker, end and tackle on defense.

While the Cabot coaching staff wants to always be aware of Cooper’s location at all times, he’s not the only weapon in the Lanny Dauksch-led Blue Devils’ arsenal.

“They’re just like they always are,” Malham said. “They’re not lacking in speed. They’ve got speed and athletes all over the field. They’re comparable to Central as far as athleticism. And we’d been breaking some long runs and we didn’t break any last week. I guess we got one on the fake punt, but out of our offense, we just had to work the ball down the field.”

The Panthers (7-0, 4-0) might have put the Tigers away sooner in last week’s 35-20 victory had it not been for two lost fumbles inside the Central 10-yard line on successive possessions in the third quarter.

If ball control is one of the keys to victory this week, turnovers can’t be part of the equation.

“They’re kind of a ball-control team too,” Malham said of Dauksch’s wing-T. “When you got two teams out there that both want to keep the ball away from the opponent, the one who does it better usually wins. So you can’t have long drives and then give it away just when you’re about to score like we did last week.”

While West Memphis (2-5, 2-2) has been a standard wing-T offense in most of Dauksch’s 12 years there, they have tweaked the formation this year. The Blue Devils don’t go with a full-house backfield very often this season, instead choosing to split one back wide and even slot a second receiver at times.

“They’re not in that too much,” Malham said of the three-back formation. “But it’s based out of the wing. So most of what you do on defense is pretty much the same. They’re not as big as they’ve been in the past, so I think they’re trying to get their athletes in space a little more, because they are still fast. We just have to be solid and not give up the big play.”

Cabot fullback Zach Launius is approaching a milestone that used to be a staple for Panther football, but hasn’t happened in several years – a 1,000-yard rushing season. Though he’s only played in six of Cabot’s seven games, he has 730 yards rushing on just 116 carries. That’s an average of 19 carries per game with a 122-yard average. He’s averaging 6.3 yards per carry.

Though Launius missed one game this season and a couple of offensive linemen have missed some games, the Panthers will be at full strength at kickoff on Friday.

“Knock on wood, we got them all and they all should be ready,” Malham said. “We’re in great shape.”