Tuesday, November 17, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Rebels running hard into Cabot

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers will attempt to take their first step back to War Memorial Stadium on Friday when they host Fort Smith Southside in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs.

The Panthers (10-0) earned a first-round bye, and will host the Rebels after they beat Catholic 38-35 last Friday in Fort Smith.

Southside (7-4) doesn’t have the stellar record that Cabot does, but has played a much tougher schedule. It’s a fact not lost on Panther coach Mike Malham.

“They’re not going to be in awe of us after the schedule they’ve played,” said Malham. “The four games they’ve lost have been to four of the best programs in the entire state.”

Southside, the four seed from the 7A-West, lost 38-31 in week two to Greenwood and opened conference play with back-to-back road losses at Bentonville and Fayetteville.

After beating Rogers and Rogers Heritage, the Rebels suffered their worst loss of the season, 38-0, at home to 7A-West champion Springdale Har-Ber. Since then, they have beaten Springdale 24-7, Fort Smith Northside 22-15 and last week’s playoff game against Catholic.

The Panthers ended the regular season with four starters sidelined with injuries. All of them, including three defensive starters, will be back in action this week.

Senior Lino Garcia and sophomore Dayonte Roberts return on the defensive line. Senior Luke Ferguson is back after missing three games on the offensive line. Junior linebacker Cody Nabors also returns after missing almost the entire season since suffering a broken collarbone in the first game of the season.

“We’re healthy,” Malham said. “I can’t think of anyone we don’t have back, so we have to get ready to play. They’ve played as good as there is in the state, so we’re going to have to play. It’s a tough second-round game.”

Southside has piled up the yardage in the last few games, mostly on the ground. The Rebels go mostly out of the spread, but have run a few power formations in recent games.

Quarterback Cooper Johnson has rushed for more than 200 yards per game the last two games. The Rebels had 520 total yards against Catholic, and 412 of that came on the ground.

“That quarterback is a good runner,” Malham said. “They’re big up front and they spread you out. They run most of the time, but those receivers are out there so you have to cover them. They’ve put up a lot of points in the last three games. It’s going to be a challenge.”

While some coaches don’t like a week off, Malham says the extra week to get rested and healthy is worth the risk of getting rusty.

“Does it help or hurt, we’ll find out Friday night,” Malham said. “I don’t think you can get that stale missing one week when you’ve been playing for 10. It gave us a chance to get rested up with some of these kids who’ve been banged up.”

The Panthers have piled up some big numbers this season as well. Four players have more than 500 yards rushing.

Junior quarterback Jarrod Barnes has carried 93 times for 1,010 yards.

Junior fullback Alex Roberts could break the 1,000-yard barrier this week, and almost certainly will if the Panthers again next week. He has 841 on the season.

Junior halfback Austin Morse has carried for 511 yards and sophomore halfback Adam Flores has rushed for 505 yards.

Senior Kolton Eads has carried for 401 yards despite also playing full time on defense.