Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

SPORTS >>Cabot facing biggest test

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

Cabot’s football team prevented a losing streak from begining last week, but just barely. The Panthers escaped last week with a one-point overtime win over Little Rock Catholic. Now they are preparing for a team that is absolutely rolling, or charging, as the case may be. North Little Rock High School’s Charging Wildcats come to Panther Stadium this Friday with plans on crashing homecoming at Cabot High.

The Wildcats are 4-1 and on a four-game winning streak. Their most recent win was a rout of Conway, a team that beat Cabot a week earlier. Cabot head coach Mike Malham is still confident. “Let’s see, Conway beat us by 16, they beat Conway 45-8, that’s 37. 37+16: Give us 53 points and bet the house,” Malham said. “I think we can probably hold the ball long enough to keep ‘em from scoring 50.”

Malham, of course, was joking, but he knows his team will have to improve from the last two weeks in order to defeat one of the hottest teams in the state. “Our offense has kind of sputtered the last couple of weeks,” Malham said. “The first three weeks we played a lot better, but the competition is getting tougher too. We’re going to have to be patient, hope we can pound on them a little and try to find a way to make first downs. It’ll be the biggest challenge we’ve faced.”

North Little Rock lost to Texarkana in week one. The 17 points allowed in that game was the most all season. The Wildcats then defeated Fair despite 13 penalties and four turnovers. Since the game against Fair, NLR has dominated. Sylvan Hills, Russellville and Conway have all been readily dismantled.

The offensive struggled through the first two weeks while the defense was stout. Since then, the defense has remained stout while the offense has reeled off two huge games in a row. North Little Rock coach Bryan Hutson has been pleased with his team’s progress.

“Slowly but surely the offense is coming along,” Huston said modestly. “Since Texarkana we’ve scored 28, 28, 30 and 45, but our defense scored twice on Conway. Still, we’re starting to do some things on offense that you like to see.” The Wildcats just pummeled a team that beat Cabot, but Hutson says his team isn’t concerned about that. “That’ doesn’t mean anything to us,” Hutson said. “Conway is a good team and things just snowballed on them. The same thing happened to Cabot the week before. It was a seven-point game right before the half. Cabot gets a bad punt snap, and then they hit a long pass and it’s 23-7. Those things don’t matter now. It’s all about matchups.”

Hutson just doesn’t know how his team will match up with the Panthers. “It’s hard to say,” Hutson said. “They run an offense that you just don’t see hardly ever. You know what’s coming, you just have to stop it. Our defense has played really well so far. You just have to make sure of your assignments every play. They’re passing more this year too and that adds some pressure to you. You have to take care of business and not forget stuff. They’ll lull to sleep and then hit one over the top on you.”

Over the top is one of Malham’s big concerns for his team as well. A pair of receivers have been a big factor for the Wildcats’ in the last two games. “They’ve got some good athletes over there,” Malham said. “That Moncrief kid on the edge, and the Dunn kind that was here in the eighth grade. They’ve got a good quarterback, there’s just a lot of weapons you have to be ready for.”

Despite the passing threat, North Little Rock is a run-oriented team, and the fact that the running game has been improving the last few weeks gives Hutson and the Wildcats some confidence. “We’ve been able to move the ball on the ground well enough that teams are having to bring people in and leave us with isolated coverage outside. And we’ve been able to hit a few big plays the past few games, so that’s good to see.”

Malham believes his team matches up well in size with North Little Rock, but his team will be at a disadvantage at depth. North Little doesn’t play a single starter on both sides of the ball. The recent heat won’t help Cabot if it remains through the week. “I sure hope it cools down because we played four or five both ways last week,” Malham said. “We’re going to be worn out if we have to do that in this kind of heat.”

More than their dangerous weapons on offense, and more than mother nature, Malham is worried about the Wildcats’ defense. It hasn’t given up more than one touchdown in a game since week one.

“That defense has been playing good, they haven’t been giving up much at all,” Malham said. “We’re going to have to find a way to move the ball. We’ve punted quite a few times the last couple of weeks and we hadn’t punted much at all before that. We’ve just got to move the ball and we sure can’t put it on the ground. If we start turning it over it’s going to be a long night. If we can move the ball, hold onto it, limit their chances, I think we can hang with ‘em and maybe pull the thing out in the fourth quarter.”