Tuesday, September 02, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers start with archrival Conway

Leader sports editor

Friday night will tell a lot about how the Cabot Panther football team will stack up against some of the state’s best teams this year. That’s when the young and largely inexperienced Panthers travel to rival Conway to open the 2014 football season.

The Wampus Cats are the favorite to win the 7A/6A-Central Conference this season, and with good reason. They have nine returning starters on an offense that went 9-3 a season ago, with two of those losses coming against the two teams that played in the 7A state championship game. The other was to Greenwood, a 6A team that was in the middle of a four-plus year winning streak.

One of the key returning starters for Conway is offensive tackle Colton Jackson, who symbolizes a key difference between the two teams. Jackson is 6-foot-6, 291 pounds and has already verbally committed to the University of Arkansas. Conversely, Cabot has just one player in its entire starting lineup over 6-feet tall.

Conway’s athletic advantage is clear, but that’s not what Cabot coach Mike Malham sees as the major key to the game.

“They have more size than we do obviously,” said Malham. “But we have a couple of good athletes out there. We may not have as many as they do and they have more depth than us. But the main thing is our inexperience. That’s a veteran team they’ve got on offense. They lost most everybody on defense, so hopefully we can have some success there, but we’re all new on both sides. So we’re going to find out some things about ourselves in this one.”

Conway has two running backs returning who ran for more than 600 yards last season. Bruising back Kevin Chamorro, who is 5-11, 210, rushed 172 times for 987 yards, and is complimented well by quick and speedy Karlil Johnson. He rushed for 677 yards on 152 carries.

Quarterback Breylin Smith started as a sophomore last season when Cabot beat the Wampus Cats 23-9, but Malham says he’s a different player than the one he saw last year.

“We got them in week three and he was a sophomore,” Malham said. “Looking at him in their scrimmage against North Little Rock, he’s gotten a lot better. He’s making good reads, making good throws. Like I said, that whole offense is a veteran group now and they’re going to be tough to deal with.”

Conway and NLR played one half with varsity players and finished with the Charging Wildcats up 14-9 before junior varsity took the field for the second half.

“We got a good look at probably the two best teams we’re going to play this year,” Malham said. “Jonesboro’s going to be awfully good this year too it looks like. But there were a lot of athletes running around on that field in that one. North Little Rock broke one long one on that defense, but other than that, they held up pretty well for such a young group. It’s going to be a challenge and we’ll learn a lot about ourselves playing them this early.”

One thing the head Panther likes about his young team is its toughness. He doesn’t believe they’ll go into the game intimidated.

“We’re going there to win. Our kids are going to play hard. They’re pretty hard-nosed kids and we want to win the ball game. If we can hang with them, we’re going to be all right. We’ve got a lot of time to get better after this.”