SPORTS >>Good buddies set for battle
Leader sports editor
For a long time the Cabot-Conway matchup has been an intense rivalry. This year, although it may seem impossible, it will get even more intense. The two teams meet this Friday to continue the longstanding series, but it’s the first time they will meet other than on opening day. That’s because this year, it’s the opening week of conference play around the state. The Panthers and Wampus Cats will meet in Conway to open play in the brand new 7A-East Conference, and a lot is on the line.
“It’s always important to get conference started out on a positive,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. Conway coach Kenny Smith agreed.
“It’s the second season,” Smith said. “It has to get more intense. Those first three games are good for getting ready for this point, but there’s a star by those last seven names on the schedule for a purpose. They’re more important than those first three.” Outside all the Xs and Os that go into preparing for a football game. The two coaches have a long relationship that has developed into a friendship, and a great rivalry as well.
The coaches look forward to playing each other. “Yea we do,” Smith said, who coached at Cabot for three years before Malham arrived. “Michael and I have been friends for a long time. Cabot’s like a second home to me. Outside of Conway where I was born a raise, it’s the greatest place I’ve ever been. People are phenomenal, the support for the team, the school system is phenomenal. I pull for him and he pulls for me except for one week of the year.”
The talk between the two gets good at that time of year too. Both have quick wits and sharp tongues, and use them well.
“Michael’s pretty good at harassing people,” Smith said of Malham. “He’s good at it but so am I. I don’t brag on myself very much, but that’s one thing I think I can do.”
Malham agreed that Smith can harass people, but not with the part about bragging on himself. “He’s about a cocky old guy isn’t he,” Malham said, but then relented. “No, me and him are good buddies and we have a good time. The only time we get after each other is when we play each other.” The two get serious when it comes to game preparation though. Conway has been a little inconsistent so far this season, but still brings a 2-1 record into the game.
Inconsistency is one of the last things a coach wants to see with the Cabot Panthers on the horizon. Conway came back from 17 points down in the second half in week one to beat Bentonville 25-24, then was pummeled 49-7 by Fort Smith Southside.
Last week the Wampus Cats put together their best effort so far in beating Benton 29-6. The win last Friday was good medicine for Conway, but Cabot still has Smith concerned.
“It’s always been the first game and we’ve made a big deal out of it, it’s sort of been a media darling type game,” Smith said. “Now it’s a conference game, and it’s the first one. Having Cabot as the first dad gum conference game isn’t the greatest thing I could have asked for. I’d rather play them in week one because they thrive on execution, and the further into the season they get, the fewer mistakes they’re going to make.”
Cabot has a bit more to prepare for than usual. They found out last year that Conway has a new fangled passing attack when the Wampus Cats beat the Panthers 21-7, scoring twice on long passes. They still run the Wing T most of the time, but have thrown more out of it than in times past. Malham has prepared for it, but doesn’t expect to see a lot of it.
“They went back to what they do best last week and they won big,” Malham said. “They got all that spread stuff in and they’re going to use it if they need it, but they’re going to run the ball.”
What Cabot will do will, as usual, be no surprise. “They’re Cabot and they’re going to do what Cabot does,” Smith said. “We have to prepare for that, and we have to get ourselves ready to execute what we do. We haven’t done that at times this year.”
We played a very good football team in week one and were fortunate enough to get out of htat one with a win. We didn’t do anything in week two, and then we had our best game last week, but this is it right here. They felt good about themselves after the game, but I feel like we’ve got a pretty intelligent group of kids, and when they report this week they’re going to understand that this starts our year.”
Judging by the score, Cabot’s most recent outing looks like its least impressive, a 23-16 win over a Searcy team that lost big to two 5A schools. But scores are always a true indicator of games.
“It was a real short game,” Malham said. “We only had six possessions and we scored four times. We punted once and lost a fumble once. They had seven possession and scored three times. And they’ve moved the football on everybody they’ve played. They just didn’t have the points to show for it. They’re a better team than their scores show.” That’s all behind us anyway, all that preseason stuff is over. We’re 3-0, and it don’t mean a thing.”