Wednesday, November 05, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Nothing at all on the line when Cabot hosts Searcy

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panthers will be playing for nothing but bragging rights in their 7A/6A-East game against Searcy at home Thursday, but even though the Panthers have already locked up a playoff berth, Cabot head coach Mike Malham made it clear that his team needs to end the regular season with a win.

“We need a win,” said Malham. “We’re going to go out there to win it. We’re going to play our best and try to win and get a little momentum going into these playoffs. We need a win just to get some confidence.”

After winning four of their first six games, the Panthers have lost two of their last three, in large part because of some key injuries. But games like last week’s one-point loss against 6A Jonesboro don’t count towards 7A playoffs.

Cabot’s offense and defense has had to get accustomed to playing without senior receiver/free safety Jake Ferguson, who was injured in week six and is likely done for the season, and the Panthers lost starting quarterback Jarrod Barnes to a broken thumb in week seven.

Barnes, a sophomore, played running back at times against Jonesboro last week with a cast on his throwing hand, and made an immediate impact. He led the Panthers’ rushing attack with 115 yards and a touchdown on just seven carries in the 24-23 loss to Jonesboro, the No. 1 seed from the 6A-East.

Despite last week’s narrow loss to Jonesboro, the Panthers punched their playoff ticket by beating West Memphis in week six. Cabot (5-4, 3-3) will travel to one of the northwest schools for the first round of the 7A playoffs next week. Conversely, Searcy (4-5, 3-3) will host a playoff game in the Class 6A tournament next week.

As for the Lions, their base offense is the Spread, and like Jonesboro and North Little Rock, they’re pretty balanced as far as their number of run and pass plays. Searcy has a few playmakers on that side of the ball, but the one Malham was quick to point out is senior receiver Rivers Ridout.

“They’ve got a big, tall kid out on the perimeter,”  Malham said of Ridout. “He’s about 6-5, runs good. Against Jonesboro, watching that tape, he caught two over the top and then ran a reverse for their three touchdowns. So they’ve got some weapons.

“Defensively, I think we’ve been playing pretty good. We gave up a few plays here and there, but I think we’re getting better. We’ve been two games without Jake and people are filling in, and I feel confident that our defense is getting better.”

The Lions’ base defense is a 4-3. That’s primarily what formation they’ve lined up in against the Panthers’ offense in the past, and that’s what Malham expects his offense to see the majority of the time Thursday night.

“They run a 4-3,” Malham said. “That’s what they ran last year against us. They also jump into a 6-1 some, move them linebackers up, and then they’ll play four deep so they can take care of the option. They’re a 4-3 cover four. That’s what they do and they are getting better at it.

“They’ll read some, but they’ll send them. They’ll slant them and send them. They’ll take chances; try to get you in bad plays.”

Like Malham said, he’d like for his team to enter the playoffs on a winning streak. He believes that if his team can gain some confidence and some momentum this week that it can perhaps surprise some teams when the playoffs begin next week.   

“If we can get a little momentum going into the playoffs, I’d like to think that no matter where we end up going we can challenge somebody and maybe upset somebody,” Malham said.

“Nothing’s going to be easy, that’s for sure. We’re going to have to play well.”

Thursday’s game will be the last played at Panther Stadium this season, and kickoff is at 7 p.m.