Wednesday, October 22, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Hobbling to Mt. Home

Leader sportswriter

Cabot’s 7A/6A-East matchup at winless Mountain Home this Friday night at 7 p.m. would normally be chalked up as an easy win for the Panthers, and even though they’ll still be heavily favored to win the week-eight matchup, Cabot will have to play at least the remainder of its regular season without its top two playmakers.

The Panthers (4-3, 2-2) took the field last week against Little Rock Central without two-way starter and the state’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Jake Ferguson.

Ferguson tore his meniscus in the Panthers’ blowout win over West Memphis the week before, and sophomore quarterback Jarrod Barnes didn’t play in the second half of the team’s 17-3 loss to Central after he broke his thumb late in the second quarter.

Barnes and Ferguson both have been ruled out for the remainder of the regular season – maybe even the playoffs.

“We lost the two guys we could least afford to lose,” said Cabot coach Mike Malham. “Jarrod broke his thumb and will have to be in a cast for probably four-to-six weeks. So he’s probably done for the season.

“Jake, he’s got rehab for the next four weeks. So unless we can make it to the second round of the playoffs we may not see either one of them again.”

Ferguson was also the team’s backup quarterback, so the Panthers had to turn to third-string QB Logan Melder for the second half of last week’s game at Central. Melder starts at corner in the Panther secondary, and in order to keep him fresh on defense, Malham said halfback Jess Reed will likely take over quarterback duties from here on out.

“We’ve got a whole week to get ready to go to Mountain Home,” Malham said. “Of course, they’re not doing real well this year. They’re 0-7, and hopefully, we can go up there after a three-and-a-half hour bus trip and take care of business.

“We’re probably going to move Reed over from one of our halfbacks and let him take some snaps at quarterback. I think he’ll do a pretty good job. He’ll be a little more mobile. He should be able to run the option a little bit. Melder plays on defense, so that forced him to go both ways.

“Hopefully, Reed can handle the quarterback chores, and we won’t have to mess with our defense. We can keep him (Melder) over there.”

Without Ferguson, the Panthers’ offense, for the most part, went back to a two tight end set against Central, but the handful of times they did go with a split end, tight end Jack Teague lined up at the position, and Malham said he’ll likely continue to do the same when the Panthers go to that formation.

Without Ferguson at safety, Malham said they’ll likely move one of their linebackers into the secondary and make adjustments from there.

As for Mountain Home, on offense, the Bombers have struggled to find an identity, as Malham said they’ll line up in several different formations.

“They’ve done a lot of things,” Malham said. “They’ve done more things than we need to work on. They’ve been in a Double Wing, a Stack I, the Triple I, then they’ve been in Spread stuff. They’re still searching, I think.

“We just need to go down there and play our base defense and play strong, and hopefully we can take care of the ball on offense.”

Defensively, the Bombers base out of a 4-3, but Malham says his offense might see more of a stacked front on Friday night.

“I don’t know,” Malham said. “We don’t usually see many four fronts with what we do. Those four fronts become five- or six-man fronts really quick against us.

“We just need to keep working on the same things we work on every week, and hopefully our kids know we’ve been through all kinds of fronts. So they should be able to make the right calls and get the right schemes going.”