SPORTS >> Panthers focused on rest of season
Leader sports editor
The Cabot Panthers find themselves in a very unfamiliar situation. At the midway point of the season, the Panthers have just one win, and are staring at the possibility of falling below .500 in conference play for the first time in quite sometime. It’s been the 1980s since Cabot finished below .500 in conference play, but the Panthers aren’t thinking about that right now.
Cabot coach Mike Malham focused on what’s left of the season when he talked to his team Monday afternoon, the first time he’s seen them since Cabot’s 25-14 loss to West Memphis last Friday.
And what’s left of the season isn’t all bad.
“West Memphis is ranked No. 2 for a reason, and we played them pretty close,” Malham said. “We were just a couple of mistakes from turning that one completely around. I told (the Panthers) if (the Blue Devils) are number two, then we’re not far behind. We’re just two games into the conference season and we’re 1-1. There’s a lot of season left and these kids just have to persevere and keep getting after it. I feel like we’re getting better every week and we have to keep improving. I just hope it’s in time for the next game.”
Up next for Cabot is its first conference road game and first game away from home in nearly a month and a half. Dealing with unfamiliar surroundings isn’t the only challenge facing the Panthers when they go to Forrest City.
In the past, Panthers faithful have marked down Forrest City as a notch in the win column in the preseason, but there are many reasons most have not done that this year.
The Mustangs have their best record in several years, and they’re playing a style of football that is tailor made to give Cabot fits.
Forrest City is 4-1 running the spread offense under first-year coach Scott Reed, who played under Malham he was an assistant coach at Jacksonville in the early 1980s.
Cabot has been dismal this year defending the pass, and Forrest City will be doing a lot of it. So far this season, the Panthers have been torched for big plays by running teams.
Against West Memphis, it was the play-action pass that fooled Cabot’s young defensive backfield.
There won’t be much question about when the Mustangs will throw the ball. The will throw it early and often, but they’ve also had success this year on the ground.
Running back Ben Wright has rushed for over 90 yards three times this season, and topped 100 yards for the first time last week against Searcy when he ran 22 times for 122 yards.
The Mustangs’ forte, however, is throwing, and they’ve done it well despite being in just the first year of the new scheme.
Quarterback Wilson Parker has completed 34 of 60 pass attempts for 758 yards, with eight touchdown passes and three interceptions.
His favorite target has been Preston Echols, who has made five touchdown receptions this season and gone over 100 yards receiving twice this year.
Malham, however, doesn’t fret going against that style for the first time, he just wants to get ready for it.
“We’re going to play some passing teams,” Malham said. “Jacksonville’s going to throw it. Sylvan Hills is going to throw it some. We just have to get ready and play.
“Pass defense has been our Achilles’ heel, we just have to get better at it. We’re starting one senior in the backfield and it shows sometimes. We just have to grow up fast.”
Cabot’s own passing game showed signs of improvement last week. On the last drive of the game, Cabot quarterback Corey Wade completed six of seven attempts, including an 18-yard touchdown pass to John Flynn.
“We put Flynn in there at receiver and that made a difference,” Malham said.
“I think we’d thrown more interceptions than we had completed passes before then. Wade looked a lot better and got some confidence. We don’t want to have to do it, but it’s good to know that if we have to, we are capable of it.”