Tuesday, October 28, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot faces big, speedy Hurricanes

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panthers will be seeking their fourth 7A/6A-East Conference win of the season Friday at home against Jonesboro, one of the top teams in Class 6A, in a 7 p.m. kickoff.

The Hurricane have had a solid season so far, and entering Friday’s week-nine matchup, Jonesboro has been ranked as high as third in Class 6A, and Cabot head coach Mike Malham said it’s going to be the toughest team his group has faced since North Little Rock in week four.

“They’ve probably got the best talent in the conference outside of North Little Rock,” said Malham. “They’ve only lost two games, and the two teams that beat them (NLR and Conway) are two of our three losses, and they put some points on both of those teams. So it’s going to be a tough one.

“It’s kind of going to give us a gauge on where we’re at right now – after losing two of our better players, (Jarrod) Barnes and (Jake) Ferguson. But we’ve got a week to get ready for them.”

Cabot (5-3, 3-2) took the field last week against Mountain Home with some different looks on both sides of the ball.

Jess Reed, who normally plays halfback, took over quarterback duties for starter Jarrod Barnes, who will likely miss the rest of the season after breaking his thumb against Little Rock Central in week seven.

Starting receiver/free safety Jake Ferguson tore his meniscus in week six against West Memphis. He, too, is likely out for the remainder of the season, and with him out, the Panthers’ offense, for the most part, went back to a two tight end set. On defense, linebacker Jack Whisker moved to the secondary to help fill the gap left there.

In the preseason, the coaches in the conference picked Jonesboro to finish second in league play, and so far that’s been the case.

The Hurricane enter week nine with a 6-2 overall record, and their lone loss in the East came against North Little Rock in week six, giving them a 4-1 conference record.

Offensively, Jonesboro’s biggest strength is at the skill positions, and other than NLR, Malham said the talent there is incomparable to any other team in the conference.

“They’ve just got great skill people,” Malham said. “They’re a lot like North Little Rock. They’ve got receivers, they’ve got running backs, their quarterback is very mobile. They spread the whole field and they can put points on the board. They’re very athletic.”

Senior QB Carson Coats (6-1, 185) leads the Hurricane’s balanced Spread attack. Coats, a true dual threat, played receiver last year, catching 38 passes for 438 yards and four TDs, but has shown he’s very capable of getting the job done with his arm as well.

Two weeks ago against West Memphis, a team both Cabot and Jonesboro beat handily, Coats completed 16 of 17 passes for 242 yards and four TDs. Senior Darren Veasley (5-5, 168) leads the Hurricane backfield. Last year as a junior, he ran for 819 yards and seven touchdowns on just 127 carries.

Deavion Binion (5-8, 168) lines up at receiver and running back for Jonesboro. Veasley and Binion are just two of the Hurricane’s skill players that run at least 4.5 40s.

Defensively, the Hurricane typically base out of a 3-4, but Malham expects the Jonesboro defense to stack the box against his run-heavy team, like just about every other opponent’s defense does.

“They’ll probably do what everybody else does,” Malham said. “If you stop our run then you’ve got a pretty good chance. With Jake and Barnes out, that kind of hurts our throwing game a little bit. We only threw two passes last week, and they were both incomplete.

“So I’m sure they’re going to see what happened against Central and see what happened against Mountain Home, and I would expect to see some people up there.

“But I’m looking forward to this week just to see where we’re at and what I think we can do in the playoffs, because this team is going to be as good as anybody we’ve played since North Little Rock.”