Tuesday, October 15, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Central no easy win for Cabot

Leader sports editor

After two weeks of little challenge facing struggling class 6A programs, the Cabot Panthers face another good test when they host class 7A Little Rock Central at 7 p.m. Friday.

The Tigers, 4-2, 2-1, have been a difficult team to reckon, with impressive wins over teams like Catholic and El Dorado, but losses to lesser teams like Bryant and Jonesboro. Central handled Catholic easily 38-14, and lost 28-14 to Bryant, even though Catholic clobbered Bryant 37-19. In their third game, Central handed El Dorado an eight-point loss before whipping Searcy 56-10. A 42-24 week-two conference loss to Jonesboro followed. Last week the Tigers beat West Memphis 41-24.

Cabot coach Mike Malham doesn’t concern himself with how the team has played in recent games as much as he’s concerned with how they’d play at their best.

“They’ve got the potential to be very good,” said Malham. “They’ve got a lot of talent, a lot of good athletes running around out on that field. They are capable.”

Central is having its best season in at least six years. The Tigers have not had a winning season since a 6-5 record in 2007. From 2008 to last season, Central has gone 11-42 with nine of those wins coming in the last two years under fourth-year coach Ellis Register.

“They’ve got their best season going they’ve had in a while,” Malham said. “They’ve already won about as many this year as they’ve won in the last several. They’re gaining confidence, and you get better when you play with confidence.”

Central is led by quarterback Cooper Westbrook and running back Logan Moragne. Westbrook has been hurt but will likely play this week. Even if he’s out, junior Kevin Lewis moves the offense running more of an option attack than the passing attack when Westbrook is in.

“I don’t know which one is worse to deal with,” Malham said. “The passing one and the running one have moved the ball for them. We just have to be ready for anything. Their passing game is pretty good. It’ll be a challenge for our secondary if he (Westbrook) is in there.”

Moragne ran for 886 yards last year in just eight games, and has picked up where he left off. He has averaged almost six yards per carry this season and is also a dangerous receiver out of the backfield or in the slot.

With all of Central’s opponents except for West Memphis being spread teams, the Cabot coaches focused their film watching primarily on last week’s game against the Blue Devils.

“They run that T stuff that’s not exactly like ours but pretty similar,” Malham said of the Blue Devils. “West Memphis went up and down the field on them, but they went up and down the field too. Both teams had a lot of talent going up and down that field. We haven’t really been challenged the last couple of weeks, hopefully we’re ready for a challenge because this is our toughest game since North Little Rock three games ago.”

Playing against teams that weren’t capable of competing on an even level with Cabot, Malham has repeated the need to stay focused and keep working hard. Evidence on the field indicates that his team did that, but the real test of it will come on Friday.

“Hopefully the kids realize you can’t get complacent because then you regress,” Malham said. “We’ve had it kind of easy so I don’t know if that takes the edge off or not. We’ll find out Friday.

“One thing about it is we haven’t had our starters in there much so they should be rested. Knock on wood, we’ve got everybody healthy so we should be at full strength.”

Even in two lopsided, mercy-rule wins, Malham sees things his team could do better, even if just in spots.

“There’s always mistakes even in a game like Mountain Home,” Malham said. “Getting those corrected is about repetition, repetition, getting better at what we do.”