Wednesday, October 05, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot trying to clean up for Conway

Leader sports editor

This Friday’s rivalry showdown at Panther Stadium between the Cabot Panthers and Conway Wampus Cats is one that features two teams with drastically different records. Cabot is 5-0 and Conway is 0-5, but the two squads aren’t very many points from having very similar records.

Four of Conway’s five losses have been by a combined 22 points, while Cabot has gone deep into the last quarter of play to secure four of its five wins. The Panthers twice didn’t have wins secured until the final play of the game. They had to score a touchdown on the last play and add an extra point to beat Pine Bluff in the season opener, and then needed Fort Smith Southside to fumble from inside the 1-yard line to win last week.

“We’re going to have to play,” said Cabot coach Mike Malham. “It’s not going to be easy. As soon as you think something’s easy, that’s when you get beat.”

Conway’s schedule has been tough. Three of its losses were to Top-5 overall teams. Only in last week’s loss to North Little Rock were the Wampus Cats soundly beaten. They fell 16-7 to Bentonville in week three, and 41-38 to Jonesboro in week two. The points allowed to Jonesboro may seem high, but it’s 16 points fewer than the Hurricane’s second-least output of the season.

The one common opponent shared by the two teams is Fort Smith Southside. In the week-four conference opener, Conway lost 23-20 at home, while Cabot beat the Mavericks 27-23 last Friday at SHS.

Cabot has made things harder onitself than they should’ve been several times this season, and last week’s game was a prime example. Southside mustered very little offense against the Panther defense, but the Panther offense fumbled five times, lost three of them, including two within 6 yards of its own goal line.

“I think their two touchdown drives were a total of six yards,” Malham said. “I know we fumbled one on about the 5-yard line, and lost another one at the 1.”

Cabot also had another game full of penalties. The Panthers were flagged 12 times for 115 yards against the Mavericks. Even though Malham vehemently disagrees with a few of those calls, he knows his team must clean things up if it expects to stay undefeated.

“We could make things a little easier on ourselves for sure,” Malham said. “

Cabot’s defense has been solid all season, and appeared to get even stronger last week. Connor Daigle’s return from an injury suffered in the spring has provided more speed at the linebacker position. He was playing safety when he was hurt, but Evan Hooper’s addition to the squad has secured that spot. Former linebacker Easton Seidl has moved to the defensive line, where he became a force on Friday. Seidl finished with 10 tackles, including four for lost yardage.

“Our defensive line is looking pretty strong,” Malham said. “You got Seidl, Chris Jones and Dayonte Roberts down there, that’s three men down there. Daigle is faster than Seidl, so he gives us some more speed at linebacker, and Hooper has four interceptions at safety. The defense is playing well.”

But Malham is aware that only a few points separate his team’s 5-0 and Conway’s 0-5.

“Really this game comes down to, we’ve been able to find a way to win close ones, and they’ve found a way to lose them. That could change any time, so I’d rather us not help them out so much and maybe it won’t come down to that. We’re going to have to play.”