Tuesday, November 14, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot opponents grow bigger still

Leader sports editor

The stakes aren’t quite as high as the last time the two teams met, but when Cabot’s 7A quarterfinal game at Bentonville is finished on Friday, so is one team’s season. Cabot won a blowout game on the same field at Tiger Stadium last season, but that wasn’t against Bentonville High.

The last time the Panthers played the Tigers, the Tigers beat the Panthers 39-28 at War Memorial Stadium in the 2013 Class 7A state championship game.

Both of those teams were undefeated conference champions, but only one in this season. After a rocky, 1-2 start to the season, Bentonville (8-2) swept through the 7A-West to win its conference championship outright.

Cabot had to win last week to move up above .500 on the season at 6-5, but the common opponents these two team’s share saw similar results.

Both teams have played Conway and Springdale during the regular season. Bentonville also faced North Little Rock in its preseason benefit game, which was not like Cabot’s annual scrimmage with Lake Hamilton. Bentonville vs. NLR was played like an actual game.

Conway smashed both teams, beating Bentonville 35-15 in the third week of the season, then hammering Cabot 49-14 two weeks later. Bentonville beat Springdale 49-21 in week five, and Cabot beat Springdale 43-21 last week.

The two teams’ matchups with top-ranked NLRHS were a full three months apart, but NLR beat Bentonville 54-19 in the preseason, and beat Cabot 38-21 in the last week of the regular season.

The Tigers have a balanced offense, but their best offensive weapon is wide receiver Kam’ron Mays-Hunt. He has 20 touchdown catches this season.

“They’ve got some good backs and good receivers, but No. 2 (Mays-Hunt) is really good,” Malham said. “The quarterback runs pretty good and throws it real well, but that No. 2 is one you really have to try to contain.”

Malham doesn’t expect the slew of big plays his offense created in the win last week over Springdale. That game featured touchdown runs of 75 and 68 yards. The plan last week was simple. Determine which side of the field 93 lined up on, and call the play to go the other way. Bentonville doesn’t have a 93, but are much more solid all the way across the line than the Bulldogs were.

“They’re pretty balanced across the lines,” Malham said. “As far as size, we’re going to be out-manned again. We’re pretty used to that at this point. We’ve just got to find a way to overcome it.”

Two starters in the offensive backfield didn’t finish last week’s game, and were still questionable as of Monday afternoon’s practice. Quarterback Tommy Oaks and halfback Noah Sorrell, who had the 68-yard touchdown run, both left the game with shoulder injuries.

In determining keys to victory, Cabot coach Mike Malham repeated the same mantra he’s being saying for 30-plus years.

“Our defense turned it around and played really well in the second half last week,” Malham said. “I really felt like the offense didn’t carry its weight as good as it should have. If we can’t control the ball a little bit and keep their offense off, it could be a long night. You can play good defense, but against that offense, if you let them have too many chances, you’re not going to keep them out.”