Tuesday, September 22, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers concerned about winless Charging Wildcats

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers open 7A/6A-East Conference play with a visit to the brand new Charging Wildcat Stadium on Friday. On paper, the game seems to have lost some of the luster its had in recent years, when these two teams were among the elite in the state.

This week’s matchup features 3-0 Cabot visiting 0-3 North Little Rock. The Wildcats have a new coach in Jamie Mitchell, who is installing a power run game to replace the spread attack run by previous coach Brad Bolding.

Mitchell also stepped into a circus that was surrounding the ousting of Bolding, who appealed his firing after the NLRHS administration self reported violations by Bolding to the Arkansas High School Activities Association.

To make things worse for the first-year coach, three Division I college prospects were all lost to season-ending injuries before the first game.

None of that means Cabot is taking the Wildcats lightly. Panther coach Mike Malham still sees a very athletic team that might be on the verge of putting things together under Mitchell’s new system.

“That’s probably the best 0-3 team in the entire state,” said Malham. “They’ve got size and speed and those are the two main things you need. They lost three DI’s before they ever got started and that’ll hurt anybody. But they’ve got a lot of good athletes out there. Whenever they get it going they’re going to be a pretty good team. We just hope it’s not against us.”

Cabot and North Little Rock share one opponent, and that indicates an evenly matched game. Both teams went into overtime with Catholic High. The Rockets prevailed 32-25 over NLR while Cabot won its game 40-33.

Cabot beat Conway 34-18 and hapless J.A. Fair 42-6. The Wildcats lost 53-14 to 7A favorite Fayetteville in week two and 41-17 to 6A favorite Pine Bluff last Friday.

“We’ve got one common opponent and that was pretty even,” Malham said. “Other than that, they’ve faced a lot better opposition than we have. So we’re in no position to think this will be an easy game.”

Cabot remains unbeaten despite a propensity for penalties and putting the ball on the ground. Those two things usually lead to certain defeat, especially in a ball-control offense like Cabot’s.

The Panthers fumbled four times in each of its first two games, and even lost a fumble inside the Eagle 10-yard line last week.

Those are things Malham says North Little Rock could exploit if given the opportunity.

“We just haven’t taken good care of the football,” Malham said. “We got some procedure penalties last week, and against good teams we can’t have that. You get that penalty on first down, even if you get five yards, that leaves with second and 10, and that kills us. We still have a ways to go to play our best, or what I think our best could be.”

Most of the fumbles have been by junior quarterback Jarrod Barnes, who never stops trying to make a positive play until the whistle blows, even when the play appears to be stopped by the defense.

“Sometimes you have to just take the loss (of yardage),” said Malham. “Then other times he does something crazy and it works out and you get a big play from it. You got an athlete like that, sometimes you have to take the good with the bad.”

Cabot has been fortunate so far this season with injuries. Only a few minor bumps and bruises have occurred, and everyone who started the season should be ready to go on Friday.