Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

SPORTS >> Cabot hosts Searcy

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

No one expected Cabot to be winless after the third week of the season, and the Panthers are facing their first 0-3 start in three decades entering Friday’s AAAAA-East opener against Searcy at Panther Stadium.
Searcy will also come into Friday’s game with a 0-3 record. First-year coach Bart McFarland and the Lions have had a tough start to their season, losing their season opener to Wynne 56-34. The Lions’ toughest loss came in week two, when the Batesville Pioneers won 50-7. Searcy dropped its third-consecutive game last week at home to Conway.

Injuries forced the Lions to play their first two games without six of their defensive starters. Half of those players are back now, but the absence of the remaining starters is still hurting Searcy defensively, as proved in the Conway game. McFarland says his team is almost back to full health after the early season injuries, with three more starters returning this week.

“We had a couple of start-ers come back last week that made a tremendous difference,” McFarland said. “We have two, maybe even three coming back for the Cabot game. That only leaves a couple of guys out at this point, so hopefully we can put it all together this week and be more consistent.”

The Panthers have struggled in the early weeks themselves. Although Cabot’s losses have been considerably closer than Searcy’s, the 0-3 record is highly unusual for a team that is traditionally in the conference title hunt almost every year. The Panthers are 0-3 for the first time since 1977, and the first time ever under head coach Mike Malham. They will also have to win six of their last seven games in order to avoid their first non-winning season since 1989.

Cabot dropped its opener to Conway 21-7, as well as last week’s game to Central by the same score. The most surprising loss, however, came in week two when the Panthers lost to Mills 35-28.
Cabot showed significant improvement from week two to week three, although it still lost 21-7 to Little Rock Central. Cabot moved the ball down the field to score on a 24-play, 72-yard drive to keep from being shut out last week. That drive gave Cabot some momentum heading into league play.

The Panthers found another reliable back in Raul Gault. Gault played some last year when injuries depleted the backfield, but ran much better than last year in leading the team against the Tigers.
With both teams hungry for a win, Friday’s game should be an interesting one. Cabot is out to prove it will be a conference powerhouse again this year, as Searcy desperately needs a win to get things turned around in their struggling program.

The defense of Searcy and offense of Cabot will make for a good showdown, as both squads have struggled so far this season. Cabot has been held to a single touchdown in two of their first three games, as the Lions’ defense has given up over 45 points in all three games so far this season.