Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

SPORTS >>Kickoff among rivals

By RAY BENTON
Leader sportswriter

For the first time in almost 10 years, Jacksonville enters this year’s rivalry matchup with Cabot on a winning streak. The Red Devils have won the last two meetings against the Panthers, and Cabot wants nothing right now except a win over the Red Devils.

That fact is abundantly clear to Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley, who was at the helm in last year’s regular-season finale. Cabot missed the playoffs last year and hasn’t faced anyone since the loss to Jacksonville. The Red Devils have just one game separating last year’s meeting and this one, but things are quite a bit different now, especially for Cabot. The Panthers have a lot of new faces in the interior, and will feature bigger and stronger running backs this Friday night at Jan Crow Stadium.
Those two facts are not lost on Whatley.

“Cabot is a much-improved football team,” Whatley said. “Their offensive line and backs are doing a very good job technique wise. They’re pushing people off the ball real well. They’re bigger and stronger, and I think they’re going to be able to throw the ball a little more than they’ve shown in the past couple years.”

Whatley’s Red Devils were impressive all through summer and throughout most of preseason practice, but the offense has struggled through an intra-squad scrimmage and a benefit scrimmage against North Little Rock. Jacksonville’s entire package wasn’t shown in either of those events, and new wrinkles were being added as recently as this week.
The offense sputtered a bit in practice Monday, but Whatley wasn’t too concerned that it can’t be corrected.

“We didn’t catch well Monday, but you never do when your putting in new stuff,” Whatley said Tuesday morning. “Hopefully we’ll be a little ahead of where we were yesterday and be a little sharper. We’re going to have to play technique football or we’re going to be in a lot of trouble Friday.”

“I know one thing. They (the Panthers) want this game pretty bad. I think they’ve got it circled on their calendar, and we’re going to have to have our ducks in a row.” The Panthers do feature a larger line, including 6-foot-5, 284-pound Scott King at left tackle. They also have a bruiser at fullback in sophomore Vince Aguilar, as well as a bruiser doing his lead blocking in senior halfback Colin Fuller. Fuller compiled 149 total yards in a 28-17 loss to Jacksonville last year. He did that from the fullback position, but will move to halfback this year to decrease his workload on offense, since he will also have to play safety on defense.

Aguilar’s transfer from Sheridan during the preseason provided Cabot with the bulk it needs at the fullback spot that it didn’t have until moving Fuller to the spot last year. Aguilar, 5-7, 200, ran extremely well against Lake Hamilton in the preseason scrimmage. The Panthers varsity squad was barely slowed down by the Wolves, who will play Jacksonville in week two.

That’s something that Cabot coach Mike Malham believes will have to continue in order for his team to be successful. “We moved the ball pretty well, and hopefully we can,” Malham said. “We have practically the all our running backs back, and we need to hold onto the ball and limit their chances.”

Cabot must limit Jacksonville’s chances for one key reason. “They’re just faster than we are,” Malham said. “They’ve got faster receivers, faster running backs and faster defensive backs. We moved the ball well, but we didn’t see the kind of speed we’re going to see this Friday. We have to limit their chances and play solid defense.”