Wednesday, November 02, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers going for upset of NLR

Leader sports editor

Cabot closes the regular season on the road this Friday against the number one team in the state, North Little Rock. The Panthers can do no better than fourth place in the 7A-Central, and needs to win Friday in order to get that.

While the difference between finishing fourth and fifth may not seem like much to play for, it means the difference between playing at home or probably going all the way to Bentonville for its first-round playoff game.

Even with the win, Cabot (3-3) needs Bryant (4-2) to beat Conway (3-3), in order to get the home playoff game. If Conway and Cabot win, it creates a three-way tie for third place, and Cabot drops to five by virtue of having lost to both Bryant and Conway.

 The Wildcats seem to have less to play for as far as the playoffs are concerned, but that’s not the case. They have already sewn up at least a share of the 7A-Central Conference championship, a number one seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs. But they haven’t secured an outright league title and are one game away from a perfect regular season. 

Perhaps more importantly for North Little Rock, it has a chance to avenge its last regular-season loss.

The Charging Wildcats have not lost a regular-season game since getting crushed 34-3 by Cabot in week four of last season. They lost 28-21 to Bentonville in the playoff semifinals last year. That’s 15-straight regular-season wins, and 16 wins in the last 17 games. 

“We’re playing the number one team in the state,” said Cabot coach Mike Malham. “Undefeated, number one, that’s a good challenge for us. It’d be nice for us to get our act together and pull off a big upset, get some momentum and get back to the playoffs.”

Cabot lost 35-21 to Fort Smith Northside last week. Malham made some changes on offense that seemed to improve the Panthers’ ability to move the football, but turnovers continued to be a major problem. Cabot has committed nine turnovers in its two previous losses. There were four interceptions against Bryant, which Cabot played without starting quarterback Jarrod Barnes in his usual position. There were five more turnovers of all varieties in last week’s loss to Northside.

 If Cabot can keep possession, the addition of 6-foot-1, 247-pound Easton Seidl to the offensive backfield could take some of the focus off Barnes, whom Malham says should be back at quarterback this week.

It’s Seidl’s third position this year after starting a linebacker and then moving to defensive tackle.

“Putting Seidl at fullback helped our inside game,” Malham said. “We have some speed but we don’t have a very big offensive line and none of our backs are very big either. Easton gives us a little something we haven’t had. Hopefully that’ll help our inside run a little bit and take some of the defensive focus off the outside where Jarrod and our other backs can have some room to run.”

North Little Rock, however, is the best team on Cabot’s schedule. Not only are the Wildcats undefeated, only one team has played them within four touchdowns. That was Northside on Oct. 21, a game that ended 35-28.

“They’re just talented,” Malham said. “They got talent everywhere, only now they’re a lot more disciplined. Coach (Jamie) Mitchell is one of those old school, hard-nose types, and it didn’t take him long to get it going. But we’re looking to have a good week of practice and go give the number one team a good challenge.”