Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

SPORTS >>Lions always tough for Panthers

By RAY BENTON AND JASON KING
Leader sports staff

Searcy coach Bart McFarland is hoping to get the first win of the season for the Lions this week while the Cabot Panthers will try to remain undefeated heading into competition in the new 7A-East Conference. McFarland knows that the Cabot team they almost upset last year will not be the same team that rolls into Lion Stadium on Friday after two big wins over Jacksonville and Sylvan Hills already to its credit in ’06.

“It’s the same old Cabot,” McFarland said. “They’re fundamentally sound. I know he has some young guys that he’s playing, but they’ve been stepping up for him. They have been showing some more formations recently, but it’s still the same old Cabot plays. We know they’re going to be running at us. They are on a roll right now; they have a lot momentum.”

Malham is as surprised as anyone that his young defense has played so well. He commented on how well his defense played in the second half against Sylvan Hills, but didn’t even realize it didn’t give up a single completed pass in the first half.
“Really, they didn’t complete a pass,” Malham asked. “I know they’ve been playing pretty well for a group that young. It helped that we were able to keep people from playing both ways. Keeping those guys that were playing both ways just on offense gave everybody a little more rest and that helps. You have to have that at this level.”

McFarland was encouraged by his team’s second half performance last week against Batesville. After falling behind 21-8 in the first half, the Lions refused the Pioneers of a shot at the end zone until the game’s final moments. “Our defense stepped up in the second half,” McFarland said. “Offensively, we were able to move the football, we just couldn’t get it in the end zone.”

Senior receiver Matt Cramblett finished with seven receptions for 170 yards, all in less than a month removed for arthroscopic knee surgery. Searcy’s ball movement isn’t lost on Cabot either. “They’ve moved the ball on everybody they’ve played,” Malham said. “They’ve got all their skill people back from last year you just don’t know when they’re going to put it together. I’d hate for our kids to get a wakeup call. They’re 0-2 and we’re 2-0 but that don’t mean anything. That’s why you go out there and play.”

Justin Rowden shook off a shoulder injury suffered during the season opener at Vilonia to play all four quarters last week, but tight end Easton Valentine was not quite as fortunate. Valentine broke his collarbone in the season opener, and is not expected back for another 4-6 weeks.

The Panthers have continued to struggle with holding onto the ball this season. Last year turnovers killed Cabot drives all season long and multiple times a game. They haven’t been so costly so far this season, but the head coach would still like to see them take better care of the ball.

“We had three last week in the first half and then did a better job in the second half,” Malham said. One of them was on a punt. That’s some pressure to field those with guys bearing down on you. (Colin) Fuller done a pretty good job of that the last couple of years. That’s the first time I remember him dropping one, so I still think we’ll be ok there. We can work on securing the ball but you just have to go out there and take care of it.”

Intangibles are always something that can come into play, and McFarland is well aware of how well his team usually plays against Cabot. “You never know how things will play out,” McFarland said. “We like to hope we can get off to the same start against them this year as we did last year – Searcy led 21-0 in the first quarter – but I’m sure they are hoping they can have the same second quarter. It was a close game last year, we’ll just have to see.”

The Lions and Panthers will kick off the non-conference matchup at 7:30 this Friday at Lions Stadium in Searcy.