Wednesday, September 06, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers prepare for large Wildcats

Leader sports editor

Halftime adjustments and smarter, less careless football resulted in a big turnaround that led to a come-from-behind win for the Cabot Panthers last week in Pine Bluff. Now for the home opener, the Cabot faces a very similar opponent in the El Dorado Wildcats this Friday at Panther Stadium.

El Dorado took care of Camden-Fairview 29-7 in its season opener, and brings an experienced offensive line, a dynamic duo of quarterbacks and a pair of bruising running backs into its week two contest at Cabot.

Cabot defensive coordinator Randall Black, who’s defensive gave up just 34 total yards in the second half of last week’s 20-12 win over the Zebras, says El Dorado presents a whole new set of challenges.

“They do a lot more stuff,” Black said of El Dorado’s balanced offensive scheme underhead coach Scott Reed, who used to play for Malham when he was an assistant for Scott Reed’s father, Bill Reed, at Jacksonville.

“They may not have Pine Bluff’s speed on the outside, but the running backs are strong. You’re going to have to put something on them to bring them down. And they got that O line back that’s about 250, 250 and 350. So that’s a challenge.”

Putting something on them is one thing Black thought his defense did well against the Zebras.

“Everything we gave up was mental breakdowns,” Black said. “That’s something we’re going to get better and better at. The kids gave great effort. They hustled and I thought won the hitting game. We were making some hits out there and I thought we were more physical than they were.”

Those mental breakdowns were largely fixed at halftime, according to Black.

“Almost all the mistakes were in the first half,” Black said. “We didn’t pick up the pitch man on their first touchdown. The touchdown pass they got was a busted assignment also, so both scores were mental mistakes. A lot of times on defense, if you hustle, you can overcome mistakes. You can’t gripe about our effort. But now we have to put everything together.”

The Cabot offense did some good things in the first half, but it also made some mistakes that hurt drives.

The Panthers were moving the ball early when a 15-yard chop block penalty put them behind the chains. The second drive ended on a fumbled handoff exchange that led to Pine Bluff’s first touchdown. There was also a dropped pass that likely would have resulted in a touchdown.

Still, running lanes weren’t opening up, so Cabot made some changes at halftime.

“We found some creases in the second half,” said head coach Mike Malham. “We changed a few blocking schemes, and of course, the more we take care of the football and hang onto it, that helps things, too.”

Cabot also continued its long tradition of blocking kicks. The Panthers blocked several last year, and senior Bryce Billings continued that on Friday, blocking the Zebras first extra-point attempt.

Junior Tommy Oaks, who never played quarterback until last spring, played very well for the first outing of his career, even changing plays at the line of scrimmage on a few occasions.

Malham said he had confidence in Oaks to do that.

“Sometimes you have to because you don’t know what they’re going to line up in,” Malham said. “Tommy played well. He’s come a long way. We drilled and drilled and drilled, and he’s gotten better and better. He couldn’t hold onto a snap when we first tried him out, but he’s worked hard and gotten better and better. And the good thing is, most of that backfield is all juniors. If they keep working like they have and continue to improve, they have a chance to be pretty good.”

One member of the offensive backfield that’s not a junior is senior fullback Adam Flores. He was workhorse last Friday as well. He carried 23 times for 127 yards, and they were all hard-fought yards. Malham was impressed with Flores’ resiliency.

“He got leveled a couple times,” Malham said. “Their middle backer was good, and I mean Adam just got KO’d. I thought we were going to lose him, but he bowed up and kept coming. He got better as the game went on. He’s a tough runner.”

El Dorado’s defense was also strong last week, holding CF to just 42 yards rushing the entire game.