Wednesday, November 20, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Expecting tougher Tigers

Leader sports editor

A first round bye and a week off seems to have served Cabot well as it prepares for its quarterfinal-round playoff game on Friday at Panther Stadium. The opponent in that game comes as a minor surprise. The Panthers will be facing conference foe Little Rock Central for the second time this year after the Tigers went to Fayetteville last week and knocked off the two-time defending state champions.

It was the biggest upset of the first round of the playoffs, and Cabot coach Mike Malham believes the team his squad beat 35-20 in week seven is playing a better brand of football five weeks later.

“They’re making plays,” Malham said. “They made a bunch of them against Fayetteville. That quarterback is playing pretty well and the running back, (Logan) Moragne, is about as good as we’ve seen. They went 50 yards in that final minute to win that game last week. Fayetteville helped them out with some turnovers, but we turned it over twice in a row to start the second half last time. We can’t give them anything or it could be a long night. They’ve got the athletes to make you pay for mistakes.”

Cabot, 10-0, used its open week to rest sore bodies and work on fundamentals. The Panther coaching staff focused on individual and position training and worked very little on team offense or defense.

“We didn’t do much team stuff at all last week,” Malham said. “We just did the basic stuff. We didn’t keep them out a long time and let them get some rest. We did weights two days and were out on the field for about an hour and a half the other two days. We’ve been at this for three months. If they don’t know what they’re doing by now, a lot of it at this point is mental anyway.”

When Cabot takes the field on Friday, it will be two weeks removed from a season-ending, 44-14 win over Searcy. Cabot led that game 31-0 at halftime, but were outplayed by the Lions in the second half.

Having to play more than half of its conference games against lower classification teams, Malham talked all season about not getting complacent, remaining focused and executing. That didn’t happen in the second half of the week-10 game, but the head Panther isn’t too concerned that it will carry over into the playoffs.

“We sputtered a little bit in the second half,” Malham said. “The game was practically over at halftime and we played a lot of kids in the second half. They ran a kick back on us for a score, but I’ll tell anybody, that No. 25 was probably the fastest thing we’ve seen all year. We had a good regular season, went undefeated. Had a bad half at the end, but none of that matters now. Everybody is even. What you did the last 10 games doesn’t matter when the playoffs get here.”

For Central, the playoffs were here last week, and what they did in that game does matter. The Tigers did benefit from five Fayetteville turnovers, but they also out-gained the Bulldogs in the 34-28 victory.

Moragne carried the ball 36 times for 142 yards as Central went to a ball-control offense in the second half with a 14-7 lead.

“It’s going to be tougher the second time around,” Malham, who earlier faced a Central team that ran the spread and tried to throw much more than run, said. “They know what we did to be successful the last time, so they’re going to do something to try to counter that. We’re looking for their best so we’re expecting a pretty good game if we don’t help them out.”